Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lively Conversation

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

...About Resisting Suicide

A gay colleague from a far-away country and I met face-to-face for the first time today after having found each other through our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) employee group's community database. "We're good at connecting with each other," he said, referring to GLBT people.

"Well, it's back to any of us having tried to kill ourselves in high school," I replied. My colleague had told me of a mother, who had found her son's diary after the boy on whom the son had had a crush rejected him. The friend hadn't been violent, but instead had given the son a book that equated homosexuality with insanity. "Once we find out we're not the only ones, we want to connect with people like us," I said.

I agreed with him that though I've never literally attempted suicide, I've always felt most like killing myself whenever --

"-- you've felt alone," he finished my sentence.

"Right! Exactly."

In the jobs we have, both of us are in the position to help a lot of people, and we do routinely. I'm glad that neither of us ever killed ourselves.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Standard of Living?

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

Or Just a National "Bad Patch?"

This morning at breakfast, I read portions of an article from today's "New York Times" aloud to Pat. Typically, she doesn't like when I do that, but this one compelled her. It was all about how, regardless of whether or not we're in a recession in the United States currently, people seem to be "tightening their belts."

The last lines of the article put a lump in my throat, until I spoke with my mother this evening about them. They described a grocery store cashier, who bought a lesser brand of steak sauce, at 85 cents a bottle and poured it into the A-1 bottle, saying that her husband couldn't tell the difference.

"Did you take Economics, Sarah?" asked my mom. "Unless there's real differentiation among products, there's no reason to buy the brand-name version."

"Why did I buy Armani yesterday then?"

"Because there's product differentiation with Armani. It's a better brand."

Inspiration While Showering

Shortly after we hung up, Pat, who was cleaning up from our rock-hauling exercise, said, "I was thinking more about that article in the shower. We're probably starting to have a lower standard of living, and we're probably not going back; as the rest of the world wants more, like I was saying about eggs the other day, there's a re-distribution, and we probably won't have what we've been having forever."

"The same article talked about a woman, buying the house-brand of Lucky Charms cereal," I said, and, "Do you remember in the '70s, when everyone was buying the generic brand of foods?"

"Yeah, and we were kind of into it -- the black and white, generic labels."

"Yeah." Still, I wonder, if like the '70s, this is just a bad patch, and we'll bounce back. Pat suggests not.

Pat's point is about supply, and about how more of the world is earning the money to buy the supply. She has also used the same logic for why globalization is great -- because as more people get better work, more people will have the means to buy all of the products and services that are being produced.

And she has spoken nervously about our gross energy consumption compared to the rest of the world's and how if we think gasoline is expensive now, just wait till more people around the world can afford cars.

Farming Might Be in Our Future

We're thinking of growing tomatoes in our emerging garden -- the one we hauled the stones to in the backyard earlier today -- because Pat just heard that fewer farmers in New Jersey are able to grow tomatoes profitably, and their price is likely to rise accordingly. "Maybe," said Pat to our neighbors Meg and Ellen, as all of us stared at the bare patch, where the garden will go, "We'll return to being an agrarian society...." Everyone, which included a chiropractor, a former higher ed. CFO, and two IT industry workers, smiled.

Years ago, I learned the phrase, "abundance mentality," and I concluded that it was how I needed to approach the world. Instead of worrying about a limited supply, I needed to believe that reasonably responsible use of whatever the supply, plus creativity and ingenuity, always would yield relative abundance.

Of course, I didn't study Economics....

Hard Labor

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

Wheelbarrowing Fieldstones on a Sunday Afternoon

New Jersey shale is brown and gray, but mostly brown. Pat and I feel like experts in it, having spent the afternoon, transporting it from the front-side-yard to the backyard, so that Pat could fashion a short garden wall from it during the week.

As my thighs and shoulders soldiered on, I kept trying to pretend it was part of a "Zoom" project. In a way, it was. I wondered how many watched the children's TV show as kids in the '70s. I loved it.

If this had been an actual Zoom project, the cameras would have shown only one of the wheelbarrow transports and then would have shown the rocks piled in the rough outline of the wall, as they looked once all of the hundreds of them were transported.

Then the cameraperson would have shown a faster version of Pat pouring topsoil throughout the space; and then planting azalea bushes and flowers and/or vegetables; and then spreading naked, not dyed, cedar mulch over top; and then standing with her hands on her hips, smiling triumphantly. Unfortunately, this project is taking place without the benefit of trick-photography, in real-time and so it might be weeks of the two of us, constructing, digging, planting and spreading topsoil and mulch before there are any triumphant grins.

Indulging My Clothing Fetish

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

This Weekend Has Been a Clothing Fest

"I grew up with service like that [in Rochester, New York]," my mom said, as we took the elevator to the first floor of Richards. "'Edie Rose, I have just the thing for you,' they'd tell me."

Aesthetically, besides visual art, my mother and I always enjoyed clothing. My mother relished shopping, which I didn't, but we both appreciated the end-result: gorgeous clothing to wear. I liked imagining my mother, having the 1940s version of the experience I was having.

Beverley, who was bringing me to Dave to see if they could copy a blouse I loved, but had worn out, interrupted our mission to ask, "Would you like to meet Jack Mitchell?"

The author of Hug Your Customers and Hug Your People serendipitously was standing in our path, wearing a suit and tape-measure, his signature.

Yes, I would love to meet Jack Mitchell. I adored the Customers book, and the People version came out while we were in India, and I hadn't yet had time to read it, with all of the school-books that I was reading since my return.

We shook hands and I said to him, "My dad used to shop at Mitchells in Westport, the other store." Jack Mitchell was the son of the founders, and the business was 50 years old. "My father always looked good," I bragged. Recalling yesterday's conversation, I'm thinking of a tan, camel's-hair jacket that my dad often wore with gray slacks and a paisley tie. And he had a great, charcoal-gray, herringbone overcoat from Mitchells, too.

My father knew how to dress elegantly, and my mother, also. I was extra-proud of my mother whenever she picked me up from elementary school in her woolen, Scottish, blue and gray plaid kilt and shawl.

I told him that I loved the first book, but hadn't yet had a chance to read the next. I was particularly interested in the next one, since I worked in HR at IBM, helping our managers at all levels to be better leaders.

He picked up a copy and signed it for me, and handed it to me as a gift. While Pat and my mom waited for me (for 2.5 hours(!), including the fittings), Pat read 80 pages of the Customers one. I introduced Jack Mitchell to Pat, saying, "This is my partner Pat," and then excused myself to complete my blouse mission. (My mother was sitting in another part of the store then.)

Who Would Have Guessed?

In the car later, Pat told my mom and me of her exchange with Jack Mitchell:

"Sarah said you're her partner?"

"Yes, of nearly 16 years."

"I have a son, who's gay, and his partner is Iranian and Jewish. His father is Orthodox and lives in Israel and doesn't acknowledge his son's orientation."

"Sarah has a friend, who used to identify as lesbian, whose mother is happy that she had a sex-change to become a man because the mother is deeply Catholic and is glad that her son is no longer a sinner, since as a man, he is not a lesbian."

"My son Andrew said that I could be as open as I wanted to be and I work with a lot of fathers to try to help them."

It touched me how, circa 2008, a Greenwich Avenue clothing store exemplified inclusion from my Jewish-American lesbian's perspective. There was a box of matzah on the cappuccino counter, sitting next to the bagels, and then Jack Mitchell came out to Pat about his son and his son's Jewish partner.

Thirty years ago, when I first became acquainted with Mitchells, and then Richards, following my father around while he shopped for clothing for work, I could never have imagined the matzah or the conversation that Pat had with one of the founders' sons...or that I'd be buying suits at Richards for my own career. The future is wondrous and appropriately mysterious.

Out with the Old...

This morning, I woke up, excited to prune and re-organize my closets, to prepare them for the new arrivals of the two suits, two blouses and jacket I bought yesterday. I wanted to see what I had that might go under the new suits, and so I ended up moving all of the winter items into one closet and all of the spring ones into the other, and organizing them by color and type, i.e., blouses; suits; jackets; pants; shirts. I was never before so thorough. Perhaps, that sort of organization was routine for most people, but it never was before for me, and it was gratifying....

Please don't feel sorry for me that that's all it took to please me. I said above how much I loved clothes. Now, I knew where all of mine were.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

11 Minutes to Save the World

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

Scheduled Blogger Outage in 11 Minutes

I'll be relatively brief then: While swimming over lunch-time today, I had a sensation I've never before felt while swimming: I felt like crying.

As the blue lane-stripe came into view during one of my free-style laps, I felt a lump in my throat. I was missing my mother.

Thank God, she is still alive, but while swimming, I was imagining her not being alive, God forbid, and was picturing being unable to call her virtually whenever I felt like it any longer.

Leaving the YHMA, I saw posters that I know she'd love, all celebrating Israel's upcoming 60th anniversary as a state.

Workaholism or Fecundity of the Mind?

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

Individually Conscious or Unconscious?

Yesterday, during lunch with colleagues, we talked about one of their Masters theses, on Jungian archetypes applied to organizations. And then we talked about the conscious and unconscious. And then we talked about Buddhism.

And then I went back to work and focused completely on responding to participants' feedback from a pilot I ran yesterday and writing the draft of a workshop proposal. All the while, in the corner-office next-door, a colleague was packing up; she was retiring after a 30-year career.

My door was shut, but I still heard colleague after colleague coming by to wish her well. And right outside her door was a huge bin on wheels into which she was tossing old papers between visitors' farewells. Yet I was focused...mostly.

Somewhat Conscious

Her assistant was on my mind because I heard her bravely helping the colleague with last-minute needs, like calling for a cart, so the colleague could bring her boxes to her car, and ushering in the well-wishers, and I knew her heart was breaking because she adored the retiree. And then at 6 pm, even the assistant said her goodbyes and left, but I still had work to do.

I kept my door closed, but felt guilty, like I ought to go home to finish working, and give the colleague privacy as she finished cleaning out her office, but I didn't want to stop what I was working on. I was on a creative roll.

By 6:45 pm, I was satisfied with my output for the day, which had begun at 7:15 am, called home to say, "I'm leavin' and I'll be home within an hour, I hope."

Recreation, Not Retirement

On the way home, I called my mom and told her, "I don't know if it's workaholism or extra creativity, but I had a great, and really long, day. And a colleague retired, and I was happy that I got to stay, rather than retire myself."

My mother just listened. How fun could it be to be trapped in a physical rehab facility for three months due to her accident? And my mother didn't work outside the home for much of her life, so perhaps, she couldn't relate.

On an average day, where things weren't as stimulating as they were yesterday, I might have felt a bit jealous of my retiring colleague...and actually, working from home today during this gorgeous weather made me feel like a kid, who just wanted to go outside and play.

But when I thought of my mom, trapped indoors, with just physical therapy for fun for six more weeks, I wanted to lose myself in my work some more. My lunchtime conversation confirmed that even as I tred to be conscious only of escaping into my work, what was unconscious was super-active in parallel. Oy!

"Mom, I think I'm just pumping till I get to go on vacation at the end of May."

"Where are you going?"

"To Florida for a weekend, to see our friends, who we missed over New Year's." They used to live the next town over and we always went to their house for New Year's, so since they moved a few years ago, we've tried to get to Florida in late-December, but this year, we had just returned from India.

Workaholism and Boring Blog Entries

It was a bit too exciting, describing my upcoming vacation, which also fell between semesters as a true break, and so I knew that between work and school, I've been running too much.

How boring for me to recount, and for anyone to read, about my days of hard work. Still, it was the best I could do. It didn't matter as much if I were conscious or unconscious; rather, I just didn't want to be self-conscious. A year ago, when I launched this blog, the first entry was about trying to get over my self-consciousness, so I could write freely.

Lately, I felt the self-consciousness returning, i.e., the more days between blog entries there were, the harder it became to write freely, for pleasure. Part of the struggle lately, too, was in trying to decide whether this blog was more useful to me and to others as an outlet for any sadness about my mother's condition, or to serve as an escape from the sadness.

I was leaning toward mostly maintaining it as an escape, which was most often when it was the most fun for me to blog. Blogging felt best when it had the same quality as what I did upon returning home last night:

Pat led us outside and we watered a bunch of flowers by hand, with a pitcher and a hose, while we waited for the grill to heat up. It was a total departure from the wild pace of the day. Typically, we just let the sprinklers do the work, but last night, it was relaxing to do it ourselves

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Pesach Generation

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

No Longer Just Kids' Stuff

At last night's seder, the kids felt more like fellow conversationalists than ever before. Both of the nine-year-old twins wanted us to know that there was an archaeological discovery at the Red Sea that made it seem as though its parting might really have happened; they didn't name their research source, but it was still fun that they were engaging with the story of the seder in that way.

I loved sitting next to my 15-year-old niece and along with my two sisters, hearing four, and no longer three, similar female voices singing the Pesach tunes. Pat told my sister Deb afterwards, "Just like you've taught your kids the songs, Zoe can teach her kids." Pat was struck and touched, I guess, by the new generation's strong voice.

Lounging on the couch after the seder, I felt like I was a bridge between my generation and the kids'; three out of four of them squeezed onto the couch with me. We talked with them about their preferred presidential candidate and about Art as a more marketable profession than Music -- an assertion by one of my brothers-in-law. Pat named her favorite candidate, "...for exactly the reasons that Zach [our sitar-star, 15-year-old nephew] mentioned."

Homophobia Emerged Like a Bit of Missed Hametz

During dinner, Pat began reminiscing about Zoe as a baby, particularly when Deb brought her to Chicago to visit us when we were living there, and when Zoe was just five months old. Pat recalled a moment when Deb and I went into a 7-11 store and the baby was left in the car with Pat. "She took one look at me and burst into tears," Pat said.

My brother-in-law, I was sure unintentionally insultingly, yet idiotically, blurted, "Yeah, she was thinking, 'Oh, no! I'm going to be raised by lesbians!'"

We didn't confront him because we knew he wasn't being consciously homophobic, but it was always moments like those when I just wanted to tighten the cocoon around Pat and me and not venture into situations, where non-lesbian people could hurt us.

Ironically, my other sister Kathy had led a discussion earlier in the evening on the Biblical passage that appeared in the Pesach Hagaddah, “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9.

Kathy spoke of how meaningful this was to her, since she had worked with immigrants in her role for many years, and how important it was for all of us to respect people, who were different.

Joy and Pain Are Fraternal Twins

Just as I was hurt by my brother-in-law's ill-considered quip, I was pleased by a quick comment his daughter Zoe happened to make during dinner. We were talking about our favorite colors. "Zoe, you used to love pink -- for a little while, anyhow."

"You taught me about pink," she said.

"What do you mean?" I had no recollection.

"I had thought there were only primary colors and you taught me about pink."

Last night, I learned that currently, one of her new, favorite colors is orange. During our drive home, I told Pat, who was happy for me and said, "We never know how we're influencing little kids." When I told Pat that orange was among Zoe's new favorite colors, she said, "Why don't you give Zoe your [coral] Armani gown?"

I'm going to. I wore it once to the GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles, and she'd love it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zman Shel Pesach

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

Pesek Zman

It's Passover time (which is the translation of this blog entry's title), and the Hebrew words for "Passover time" remind me of the name of my favorite candy bar when I lived in Jerusalem for the year in 1985-86, "Pesek Zman," which meant "Time Out."
well enough to be there. I remember when Zoe was old enough to sing "The Four Questions," and I became no longer the youngest at the seder (it's the role of the youngest child to sing them); that was a decade ago.

Back then, no one, yet, had the host of very serious health challenges that our family has been enduring. 9-11 had not yet happened and the United States was not yet at war in Iraq...

Zman Cherutaynu (The Time of Our Freedom)

..And in parallel -- because there's always joy with pain in my experience -- our gorgeous, twin nephews and godchildren Max and Sam had not yet been born; our sitar-star nephew Zach had not yet discovered his talent; our bindaas niece Zoe had not yet been accepted at LaGuardia Arts High School; Pat had not yet retired and gone on to do essential volunteer work; and I had not yet gone to grad. school or done as much as I have by now in my work; or launched this blog.

Passover is all about Zman cherutaynu -- from slavery in ancient Egypt. Even as my mother is enslaved to her necessary accident recovery period at this time, I need to think about freedoms I am free to celebrate, including expressing myself on this blog, and its accompanying delivery of serenity.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm Here, Rather Than in Synagogue

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

Doesn't Feel Like Friday Night

Today, the gorgeous weather made me feel like I was back in Bangalore, except that leaves on trees here are just beginning to bud, even though our tulips and daffodils already have bloomed.

Earlier this week, Pat arranged for a nearby nursery to plant a baby willow tree along the fence in our back yard. She researched it and learned that willows grow fast, and soon, it will block a view of one of our neighbors' houses. And we're finally getting rid of some wild junipers because they're just unappealing and Pat's researching what to put in their place.

Writing about trees in our yard is relaxing, the way that looking at Pat's photoblog relaxes me, too. What a contrast from the photos she took while we were in India!

A Colleague's Career Growth

This afternoon, I had a treat accompanied by a bit of anxiety: A colleague who's a friend, a mentee and a former employee on a team I managed was named an IBM manager.

She reminded me that I was her first IBM manager. I had hired her into IBM.

We had not seen each other face-to-face in a number of years, and yet we spoke monthly by phone. I love that I was with her on the day she was named a manager. It's a big deal in this company, as only 10% of our 386,000+ employees worldwide are managers.

I said to her, "God, please don't strike us down [for pride/lack of humility], but you can drive home now, saying, 'I'm an IBM manager! Not just any manager, but an IBM manager.' I mean, we are a hot company right now, [please, God, keep it that way!] and you're among our leadership."

When I said goodbye to her, I ran into another colleague and introduced the two of them, asking my other colleague to remind me where she was from originally. She told us and it was from the same part of the world as my friend.

"Guess what! [She] was named a manager today!" I exclaimed, and I saw that my other colleague was sweetly happy in response. Here we were, two women, celebrating a third for being recognized for her leadership skills and potential. It's not an every-day occasion for anyone of any gender to be promoted to management here.

I'm sitting here, thinking that I want to keep our monthly calls going and assume she does, too, but now, they'll feel more like peers, talking. And there's a wistfulness in that I used to feel certainly useful to her as a mentor, and now, I hope I can be still, but feel less confident.

At lunch, I went on about an academic book I'd read about mentoring, saying that the definition by the author Laurent Daloz was that a mentor was simply someone who had been there before you. I felt silly, lecturing her, and I guess that was my insecurity, leaking.

When she came to see me in my office after lunch, after the announcement call, I saw the recognition of her enormous, new responsibilities in her face. She looked awed like I've never before seen her. It was an honor to witness that expression.

It's awful to have to admit, but seeing her good career fortune made me wish for my own triumph in whatever is the next step in my career. I know that must be natural, but it feels self-absorbed, and it is, whether or not it's human nature.

I'm remembering Pat, telling me once, "A real friend is someone, who is happy for you when things go well, not just when they go badly." Coincidentally, a daily reading I read this morning talked about unconditional love, not just for others, but for oneself, too.

It would help me to let myself feel a mix of anxiety about and joy for my friend without judging it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Well Is Still Damp

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

...And Will Become Full Again, I Hope, with Time

Today, at lunch, a colleague told me that she was gardening last weekend and had to move a rock off of a tulip, so it could grow. "I moved the rock and thought, staring at the tulip, that's me!" she said and continued, saying that she wanted the courage and time to take a course in a subject that interested her. Each day she sat on the application was a day that she felt a rock, sitting on her.

This week has been a rock piled on me.

At first, it was great, swimming two days in a row, Sunday and Monday, but then I had to be at work too early on Wednesday and Thursday. I was at an amazing Web 2.0 conference at the beginning of the week and then a two-day meeting, and I've paid for it. At lunch, I responded to my colleague: "I know what you mean. I blog as a creative outlet and when I do not get to do it, or am too tired, I actually feel angry."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Please Keep Coming Back...

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

I know I've been a poor correspondent lately. Please keep coming back, or come again in any case.

Lately, I've been doing a ton of writing for work, including some internal blogging behind our firewall about my mission for work, and have been working on two papers at once for school.

It's coming up on this blog's one-year anniversary....Oy! Just like a neglectful partner, I forgot the anniversary! I just looked and saw that I made my debut on March 31st. And the blog has been so good to me so far. I feel guilty to be slowing down for now, and want to will it not to be a trend.

I do learn by writing, as William Zinsser wrote about, and I've learned a great deal over the year. Also, the sitemeter keeps me going.

About a week ago, a friend called this what it is -- tailor-made for a narcissist. You know what, though? So be it.

She also said the same thing my best-selling-author friend Alice Dark once said to me about writers, "Sitting in a room by themselves, typing, they're not hurting anyone."

Right. I'm not hurting anyone, and at a minimum, am helping myself, and ideally, every now and then, I'm helping someone, who happens upon my blog. At a work conference yesterday, a colleague said, "I recognize you. You have an external blog, don't you?" What a thrill! Moments like that keep me coming back to this.

What would it be like to write things that appealed to masses of people? The sitemeter is holding steady a year later with an average of between 20 and 30 visitors per day. They are not masses of people, and I'm not meaning to sound like an ingrate; I'm delighted for everyone's visit...even if some of them are just looking up "bowling in Bangalore;" "Kristin Davis Jewish?" or "Dorothy Heroy Pool" in Stamford, CT.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Craving Judaism in India...

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

We Found It Back Home

[Note: I wrote this for our synagogue's newsletter and it was just published, and came in today's mail:]

It may be easy to find a Jewish person just about anywhere in the world these days, but finding a sense of yiddishkeit in a place like Bangalore is another matter entirely. During a recent six-month stretch in India, I’d often spend Friday night sitting with my partner Pat at the Rajgarh restaurant, where we feasted on dishes like tandoori gobi and dal makahni, but found ourselves thirsting for Jewish life.

Prior to moving into a house, we lived at a hotel for 35 days. During a party, we met a lone Jewish expat wearing a white woven kippah and engaged him in conversation. But when we asked the hotel’s concierge if she could locate a synagogue for us in the metro area, she responded, “We didn’t find a synagogue, but there’s a Methodist church….”

Pat joked with me later, “Well, you know, those monotheists all look alike.”

The experience would have been more haimish (homey) had we felt comfortable, being ourselves as a visible couple. But we almost never felt did, aside from when we were with my colleagues from work.

It was retro, being so cagey. Prior to moving into my current role in management and leadership development at IBM, I was a featured face of my employer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients, having helped start a sales team dedicated to the LGBT market. Why was I willing to take so many steps backward in my openness with this Indian assignment? After all, I didn’t even request the position, but rather was asked by a superior to help our company leaders at all levels in India advance their leadership skills.

Speaking only for myself—and not my employer—through these reflections, I’d wondered: When else would my colleagues in India have had the opportunity to get to know lesbians as people? Openly gay or lesbian colleagues are rare in India, I confirmed during my first, brief trip there in 2005, and re-confirmed this time. Yet I have a sacred sense that once people are exposed to one another, they can never again be purely ignorant of one another…and that includes Pat’s and my exposure to Indian culture and people.

The most beautiful woman I met during our trip was named Sapna, who became a visible friend to our community as a result of our meeting. She introduced herself, saying, “Sapna – it means “Dream.”

Yes, it does! I told myself silently, smiling.

Since my local boss was out of the country at the time, Sapna invited me in his place to address a group of IBMers, who were volunteering to help “freshers,” (not fressers [Yiddish for gourmands]) feel at home. “Freshers” is the expression used in India to refer to people who have just joined a company. In my remarks, I made a plug for employee networking groups, ensuring that people knew of their availability, and that any L, G, B, or T employees were welcome to contact me about starting an Indian chapter of our LGBT employee group.

Sapna approached me afterwards and said she wanted to help. She agreed to start up the chapter; she was heterosexual and deeply, traditionally Hindu with a lesbian friend, who she said confided only in her. “I like being part of anything that advances humanity,” Sapna said as her lovely rationale.

Since India is just in the early stages of further LGBT inclusion, Pat and I chose to respect the local norms to a degree, so that we could live without a measure of anxiety and worry. People can be jailed for homosexual acts, though I’m told it hasn’t happened for years. Still, it meant that during the week we lived in separate rooms, giving our maid the weekends off. Essentially, being in stealth-mode also made Jewish community life impossible for us. We didn’t want to seek out Jews and then not be able to share our full story with them, and so we thirsted....

On the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah, Pat and I flew to Kochi to visit the Pardesi synagogue and experience the only shul within a several hours journey of our home. The modest stone building bore a welcome sign, but sadly it was locked in preparation for the holiday. With a little ingenuity (and a handful of rupees), we convinced a Hindu worker to let us inside to quickly glimpse the interior. The Orthodox-style sanctuary had seating for men downstairs and women behind a latticed partition above; there were several Belgian chandeliers and a floor with 1,100 hand-painted Chinese tiles. The five Torah scrolls had Sephardic-style coverings and one was decorated with jewel-encrusted gold crowns—a gift from the Maharajah. (For more on the visit, see our blog and pictures at and at

As we were ready to leave, the Hindu man said, "Chag samayach" ("Happy holiday,") and Pat and I nearly cried with gratitude. I was struck by how meaningful our two minutes at the Pardesi felt compared to the 20 minutes spent in an Indian temple the previous week. Somehow, despite the lack of ritual during those six months, I still managed to feel incredibly Jewish. A paradox, perhaps. But I’ve come to believe that seeing others' religions only strengthened my affection for my own.

More than ever, CBST has been an oasis since our return from India. Our first weekend back, we came to services and Rabbi Cohen generously asked us to light the Shabbat candles. When Pat and I stood on the bimah, singing “Shalom aleichem” with our arms around each other and the rabbi and cantor, I looked out shyly with delighted awe at the huge roomful of LGBT Jews and our friends and family. No one needs half a thirsty year in India to appreciate what we have in the CBST community, but it can’t hurt.

Sarah Siegel and her partner Pat Hewitt of nearly 16 years have been members at CBST since they moved here from Illinois in 1996. They live in Montclair, NJ.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Second Family

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

Losing Another Father

My current professor looked at my blog a few weeks ago and observed that every single entry begins with the disclaimer about how the postings are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions....How closely identified you are with the company just by virtue of that disclaimer, he observed.

I thought about how being an IBMer has, over the years, become part of my core identity: Jewish, American, lesbian, IBMer. If he worked for IBM, it would make sense to him. Many of my colleagues feel like a second family to me -- and most often, a healthy one.

Yesterday morning, I cried while driving up 287, hoping for invisibility to the cars in the other lanes. Last night, I had to go to the retirement party of the leader at IBM, who I've most admired, Doug Elix, who was my second father, it felt like.

Doug, for a little while longer, leads our sales organization worldwide and is the senior executive sponsor of the GLBT community at IBM, and still sponsors a global sales team dedicated to the community...which I helped start up in 2001, and about which I've written here before.

He was like the father I got to meet in 2000 at the Millennum March, and got to keep having, since I lost mine at 17, since he was so supportive of my people and me.

While crossing the Tappan Zee, I dialed my mother and said, "Mom, I don't want to talk about us and any tension now [we've been having trouble around mutual frustration at her sudden immobility, and I'm the one, who will need to lose my tension ultimately, since she's the more understandably frustrated of the two of us]. I need to tell you about a loss I'm feeling." And I told her how I felt grief-stricken at the proximity of Doug Elix's retirement.

She understood because she has praised me most of all for my work whenever it has enabled me to advance human rights; his sponsorship of the GLBT community at IBM and beyond it enabled me to do that work for three solid years, till I made room for others to lead the mission.

Last night, I couldn't tell Doug that he felt like my second father, as he's only a few years older than my partner and I didn't want to be hurtful, though it has nothing to do with his age, but rather with his wonderful protectiveness and championship. Instead -- and I posted about this in our GLBT community database at work earlier today:

I went up to Doug's wife at the end of the evening and said, "Robin, I met you at the Equality Forum [in Philadelphia]."

"We loved going to the [GLBT] dinners."

"You'll have to keep coming then!"

"We'll be there if you invite us," she said, "We enjoyed them."

And then I hugged Doug and kissed his cheek and said just, "I love you, and I have to kiss your other cheek, too. I adore you!"

We looked at each other, I want to believe, both sadly, and I said goodbye.

My First Family

On the phone yesterday morning, in response to my expressing my sadness and sense of loss about Doug Elix, my mom said that the next generation picks up where the prior one left off.

I cried really hard, and said, "I don't think you're dying, Mom, but I do feel a loss from before the accident and after it." I felt so much relief. We talked until my 8 am call with my colleague in India, who I gave an earful before we could talk business.

More of my second family: My colleague said, "You know, it really just is. You don't need to forgive anyone for your being in the position you're in because that presumes someone needs forgiving. So you just need to forget it. Not forgive it, which it isn't yours to forgive, but simply forget it. It's just karma. Really.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Broadway Day

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

Sun and a "...Hot Tin Roof"

Pat and I saw Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose on Broadway this afternoon. I've never seen any other version of the play, and to me, it seemed totally natural that it was a black cast.

Pat told me that James Earl Jones said that any part in any play ought to be playable by an actor of any race. "Come Back, Little Sheba," which we saw recently, demonstrated that.

Spoiler Alert: It felt like a 3-D E. Lynn Harris novel. I've read everything he's written so far, and many of his key characters are sexually-down-low football players, past and present.

Watching the play, I wondered if Tennessee Williams inspired E. Lynn Harris' plots.

My favorite lines of the play were when Maggie, the wife of Brick, the former athlete whose sexual orientation seemed not necessarily heterosexual, said to Brick, "That was gallant of you [-- not telling them I wasn't pregnant]. Thank you for saving my face...."

Just like with "Brokeback Mountain," I found myself sympathizing with the wife, rather than the sexually-distant husband.

Sun and a Voicemail Message

After the play, while waiting to be seated at "Above," a theater district restaurant on the 18th floor of the Hilton, I checked voicemail and heard a sweet message from my mom:

"Thanks for smiling, Sarah, because the sun came out today and it was a real booster...."

Whenever the sun came out, growing up, my mother said, "Sarah must have smiled." I don't know the origin of the saying, but she has said it all my life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Coming Clean

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

Inanity Is the Clearest Sign That More Is Afoot

OK, almost whenever I blog briefly or superficially, there's a volcano of writing simmering...not that Irving Berlin or John Lennon are inane, of course, but my blogging about them was so that I could blog about *some*thing, use my voice *some*how because I wasn't prepared to use it to say what I was really feeling.

My friend Richard's encouragement that it's the things we're most ashamed of that are most interesting about us comes in handy now:

My mother's car accident, at this time, has made her alien to me. I have the same shame as I felt at 17 when my dad was dying of bile-duct cancer for six months; die already! I used to think to myself because it was just such a trial to drag through his illness with him. I wanted clean grief.

Please, God, don't listen to this blog entry. I'm just talking to everyone other than you right now...clearly.

This grief is messy. Very. My mother was not felled by the accident, just physically incapacitated. Tomorrow, it will have been exactly a month since it happened. She has two more months to spend in the physical rehab facility.

Speaking for myself, which is most of what I do here, among other kinds of grief, it's a grief that I'm suffering at her diminished mobility, at her decline. End-of-life issues are what I'm facing, according to the employee assistance program counselor I finally called during my commute home.

When I told a classmate about my mother's accident on Monday night, she said, "I feel like I'm going to be sick, like I need to throw up."

I looked at her and said, "You're not thinking about my mother right now; you're thinking about your parents, right?"

"Yes, and I'm sorry to say it, but you're living my worst nightmare."

I wonder if my worst nightmare's worse than hers. My worst nightmare is that I lose my mother, either quickly or slowly, and then become an orphan, since my father's been dead since I was 17. My very worst nightmare is that my death is no one's worst nightmare, by the time it happens.

Cheery Subject Continued

This issue of "The New Yorker" features a story about people, aiming at longevity. I stopped reading it because I thought, I could read this or I could blog. Any of us could die at any time, of course, but odds are that my partner, Pat, who's 15 years older than I might die before I do. My death would be Pat's worst nightmare, but if she were gone, it would be no one else's, unfortunately.

Is it a paradox or completely understandable that I want to do something self-destructive right now, like eat sugar and destroy my hearing potentially (I've written here before about my otosclerosis and the experimental food regimen I'm on); spend money on something just to spend it; or even walk off a ledge? I commit to all of you, whoever you are, that I won't do any of those things tonight, but I feel super-lonely right now in this grief, and if I could leave before my mother or Pat, then I wouldn't be left by myself ultimately.

Literally, I'm alone now, since Pat's out with her friends, seeing an opera; one of the friends she made at the soup kitchen, where she volunteers, was able to get free tickets for them, since the friend works at Lincoln Center. Could I turn this into the darkest blog entry I've ever written so far?

Have I already? I could go much darker than this. More shame needs to be warded off if I'm to do so. Funny how a swipe of peppermint Chapstick across my lips brings me some relief right now, but not for long. It's making my eyes sting, too.

"Joy and sunshine and rain," I've talked about that song here before. They're always a combo; the Chapstick is soothing my mouth and hurting my eyes.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

What's the worst that could happen if I really named my feelings this publicly right now? I could lose positivity points, I could yield to a depression, I could embarrass myself with self-pity, I could seem like a monster, rather than a daughter, I could become too mortified to return here to share any feelings after sharing these, I could isolate myself from the world.

Those are high stakes, especially the idea that I might not come back here, particularly because this has been, for nearly a year already, the place I come to relax. If I lose this relief outlet, I'll have to figure something else out, and chances are that it'll be a lot less artful.

Right now, I want to mention that Erica Shaffer is appealing. I just diverted myself from this blog entry for a good seven minutes, flipping through the gallery section of her site. Over the weekend, Pat and I saw a rented DVD of "A Family Affair," in which she co-starred. Both of us found her lovely. Erica Shaffer, with her most often sunny-and-inviting face, is a lot easier to think about than my grief right now.

The grief -- what's it made of? I'll pretend that Pat and maybe Erica a bit, too, are petting my hair soothingly as I tell you; add "God forbid" to the front of or at the end of each item:

  • My mother could die relatively soon
  • My mother could live on for many years, needing increasingly more time and attention
  • I could die soon
  • Pat could die soon
  • Pat or I could become incapacitated, mentally or physically
  • I'll lose my vacation, helping my mother move back to her, or to a new, residence
  • I'll keep sleeping poorly
  • I'll go back to therapy and it won't help
  • I'm losing my loved ones
  • I'm having scares and can't keep up with them -- last year with my mother's breast cancer and Pat's colon cancer scare, the year prior with my sister's survival of breast cancer, Stage IIa
  • Since I'm squarely in my forties, now at 42, and my mother's squarely in her eighties, at 82, neither of us will grow spiritually much further than we've grown by now.

Oh, God, I *am* a monster. The phone just rang, I saw on caller ID that it was my mother, and I did not pick up the phone. I have not called her since yesterday morning, and that call didn't go well. I don't want to interrupt my sadness and, yes, even partial equilibrium.

I want to be able to sleep properly tonight. I could not have imagined ever being this way with my mother. It's as if something in me has snapped since the accident and a blame-flare went off -- like I'm furious with her for it, like she should have been able not to have it....Oh, boy, I do not want anyone making a comment here on how I need to stop with my self-absorption and come to her aid because after all, she gave me life and isn't it payback-time?

That, actually, might be my worst nightmare -- being lectured at self-righteously.

The only reason I have the guts to write this at all is -- well, Richard's truism helps, but -- that the employee assistance program counselor, a trained psychologist, said that events like this bring out all sorts of reactions and that mine isn't uncommon.

"Are you saying that because that's what you're supposed to tell everyone who calls?" I asked.

She said, "Every caller is different, so, no...." Oh, God, I'm reminded of conversations I read in Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater...or did I imagine that that book was about a suicide hotline? I just went to Wikipedia to double-check and there's no such reference in association with that book. Well....

I didn't answer my mother's call. How metaphorical. I cannot explain my rage fully because I want to retain some shred of "Honor thy mother...." Maybe this is one of those many entries, where no one comments at all, but where maybe I'll feel better just for having aired what I felt like airing. I'll just allude again to what I tucked into an earlier entry, that my mother was as often, or more often, my child, growing up, as she was my mother...and now that, in my adulthood, I have a choice of whether or not to parent her, I am perhaps the sternest of all parents, and for now, am giving her the silent treatment.