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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Sweet Day

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

This morning, I ran into a colleague I worked with two assignments ago. She was in Communications in another country at the time. I was selling to the GLBT B2B market.

My colleague was here for new executive training. I am among the facilitators of that training. As it turns out, she is not in my section, but it was a nice occasion to run into each other.

We caught up about a beloved former colleague who's now a Lenovo director in Europe, and who's still helping all clients and colleagues succeed, including GLBT ones, since he's also openly-gay; my Communications colleague herself is heterosexual, and is a marvelous supporter.

The touching part happened later, as I saw her walk into the auditorium. I was sitting in the back, with the rest of the facilitators. She walked by this time without seeing me. She strode confidently, and I was honored to watch her milestone live. It was the first gathering of this group of 150 new executives from around the world. She had on her game-face, but in parallel looked humbly proud to be part of the group.

Last time we were together, she was supporting than 100 of us at the IBM Global GLBT Leadership Conference in 2003...five years ago already!

Dining Room Surprise

My second, unexpected reunion happened over lunch today. A colleague I hired when I managed Creative Services for ibm.com came over to say hi. He was at the Learning Center for a strategic meeting and I had not seen him since I was his manager in 2001, although we were still in touch electronically from time to time since then.

"This is the colleague I was referring to last night!" I exclaimed to my co-facilitator with whom I was eating. "He got his green card while we were working together." (As his manager, I was honored to be able to sponsor it.) The wife of the co-facilitator had become a U.S. citizen yesterday. "I hope you don't mind that I said so," I said to my ibm.com colleague.

He smiled. "Not at all," he assured me.

And then at dinner, two more ibm.com colleagues and I chatted. I glanced over at the table from where they had come and the colleague, who had said hi at lunch was sitting at it, smiling while watching us talk. He had a tender expression on his face and I traded his expression with mine in kind. I don't know what he was thinking, but he was one of the finest people I hired during the dot-com era, and I'm so glad that he's still with IBM.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"If You Are What You Say You Are..."

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

"...a Superstar..."

"The Silence of the Lambs" is playing on a channel with commercials, but our friends' house is an open-plan one, and so I can look up and see it on their big-screen TV. I've seen it with Pat once before, and I can't look away. Jody Foster's hair reminds me of a lighter version of mine when I was 20 -- a brunette bob-as-helmet.

This morning, though, was a different scene:

Pat and I sat on the balcony of our friends' condo, eating Fage yogurt and fresh blueberries as a yacht filled with women in bikinis and bare-chested guys in their mid-thirties parked their yacht at the John's Pass Marina across the way. The yacht had a stereo, playing a pop-song I had never before heard, but liked instantly.

As the beautiful women -- all of them -- disembarked, a pelican flew overhead and I was reminded of my dad, of blessed memory, who had a pen collection, including at least one Pelikan brand fountain pen. And then a Casino Cruises 1-800-LUCKY-DAY ship beeped its horn to open the draw-bridge at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, taking me out of my revery.

This vacation has hit the spot.

Updating My Swimming Autobiography

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

Two New Swimming Experiences

In reality, I swam in the first of the locations in 2005 and the second in 2006, but had forgotten to include them prior to now. This time, though, I swam and splashed more vigorously, and so they definitely needed to be on the list.

Scroll to the end of this blog entryto learn the latest places I've swum.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chak de Florida!

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

Friday to late-Monday

We returned from six months in India just before the New Year in 2008 and so, having just done a tremendous amount of flying, we skipped our annual New Year's trip to our formerly New Jerseyan friends, who now live in Florida. Instead, we'll spend Memorial Day Weekend with them, starting on Friday.

I feel like we just got back again. And going to Florida will remind us of Bangalore with all of the palm trees, but Florida will be more humid. Our friends will not remind us of Indian colleagues and friends, though; they are originally from North Dakota and New Jersey.

It's not clear that I'll be able to blog while we're in Florida, as we won't have either of our laptops with us, and so I'll miss posting till at least next Tuesday if that's the case. I truly hope/plan to find a way to blog, but just in case....

A Very Local Film Fest

Pat and I just watched "Chak de India!" finally. It was motivational and heartening the way the best sports movies are.

We had brought it home with us, along with a few other Indian films and just now got around to seeing it. Prior to it, we watched "Gentlemen's Agreement."

Both films were about underdogs -- standing up for, or as, them. We just finished a Public Broadcasting Service series last night, "The Jewish Americans," which also featured stories about triumphing against the odds.

We started to watch "Kim," which we rented recently, but Errol Flynn looked so silly as Mahbub Ali that I couldn't keep watching. I had loved the book as a kid, but the movie was spoiling all of the pictures I had formed in my imagination.

Weird how Dean Stockwell played the son in "Gentlemen's Agreement" and then Kim in "Kim," and we happened to try to see both films in the same evening.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ahhhhhh

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

The Sound of Vacation

This morning, Pat and I will take a bit of a road-trip to see Duke Farms. Will I think of Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes in "Bernard and Doris" while we're there? It will be great to visit the grounds with my partner, who shares my sexual orientation and who does not suffer from alcoholism. (For context for this particular relief about my partner, see my blog entry on "Bernard and Doris.")

Weird how such a gorgeous, peace-producing arena -- as I imagine the gardens will be -- were at the same time apparently the occasional site of emotional turbulence for their creator...according to the HBO story, at least.

Can joy ever be pure?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jewish Art -- Less of an Oxymoron Now

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

...Than When I Was a Kid

This article reminded me of the Jewish Art seminar my mom took me to at the Jewish Museum when I was a pre-teen. Back then, probably around 1979 or so, the seminar leader spoke of ritual Jewish art, but if I remember correctly, said that there wasn't a lot of figurative Jewish art historically. Sure, there was work by Jewish artists, including Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipschitz, Camille Pissaro and Judy Chicago, but there was no profusion work by Israeli artists, as there seems to be today.

I think it's so interesting that while I was sitting in that Jewish museum workshop, today's Israeli artists were kids, gaining the necessary inspiration to create today's Israeli art...and then in March of 2008, nearly 30 years later, I sat in the same auditorium of the Jewish Museum, again invited by my mother, watching a slide-lecture, featuring many of the works referred to in the "New York Times" article.

Inspiration was all it took.

A Colleague's Questions and My Answers

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

In Response to a Paper I Wrote During Spring Semester

The course I took this past semester was the most draining and most profound I've taken so far at Teachers College. It was on Educational Biography and Leadership, and the core assignment was for all of us to write our own learning history and how it informed our leadership, and then to exchange papers with one another.

One of the colleagues with whom I shared the paper kindly wrote a number of questions to me in response to having read mine, including:

Q: In addition to her being your “teacher”, was she [your sister] also a friend, or was there a “teacher-student” distance between you? Were you always close with her, or did that sort of evolve as you grew up?

A: She was my teacher and my friend, though I did turn her into an icon to adore, and she had to tell me when she was 18 and I was nearly 13 that she was "not Superman" and I needed to stop treating her as such. That shocked me, to know that she had felt my adoration at all as a burden.

Q: The whole section on your father, and his wishes for you, touched me so much. His encouraging you to write for the newspaper especially....Why do you think you didn’t stick with it, after you had some articles published? Was this your own negative beliefs about your abilities tripping you up?

A: (My colleague was referring to my having written a bit for "The Michigan Daily" as a freshman.) If I were providing the answer back then, I'd tell you that it was a luxury I couldn't continue to afford -- I had to study and work for 10 hours a week while in school and also was studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for my whole junior year -- but really, I agree that it was a combination of giving up before I started and also letting it be the province of a friend on whom I had a crush at the time. Both of us wrote for the "Arts" page and she kept at it, but when our friendship diminished (because she discovered my crush and rebuffed me, which was another tragic story), I didn't want to be around her as much and vice versa.

And yes, I think I couldn't believe how easy it was to get published -- it overwhelmed me. Though I had been an active reporter for my high school newspaper, "The Roundtable," at the college level, at a newspaper that had its own art deco building on campus (which it shared with "The Gargoyle," the school's humor magazine), it seemed like the college journalistic equivalent of being on the Michigan football team. I didn't feel worthy on some level, I guess. And yet the articles I wrote were clever. The best of the few were a feature story for the weekend magazine on the 10th anniversary of the Saturday midnight showing of "Harold and Maude;" another, a review of a gallery opening, including Richard Diebenkorn; and a review of "The Flamingo Kid," a film I liked because of its star, Matt Dillon.

Q: I loved the “Full Moon at Noon” story. Do you still have a copy of it? And if so, would you be willing to share it? (if not that’s fine, I understand!)....What part of him [my father, may his memory be blessed] is still with you, held close? Can you take in, now, that belief that he had in you, his vision of your potential?

A: Unfortunately, I don't know where that story is. It was from the typewriter era. If I had it, I'd be happy to share it in its entirety. I've written about my dad's particular legacy for me before, but not lately. I feel like I got nearly all of his height (he was six feet tall and I'm five nine and a half), and his creativity/sometimes childlike enthusiasm, and also, the self-doubt that can go with being an artist, or with being any sort of human. And also his appetite. He referred to his alma mater as the "Rhode Island School of Desire" (rather than the Rhode Island School of Design) because he developed, and aimed to satisfy, his learning longings so fully while there as an Industrial Design major. He was a toy and game designer professionally and so I always relish opportunities to work with designers in my work at IBM.

It's a touching question about whether I can fully see the belief he had in me and my potential now in hindsight because I don't remember any such conversations, other than that one, where he encouraged me to go to the University of Michigan and write for the school newspaper. And then by November 1st of my senior year of high school, he had died.

In 1995, I had a dream about my father that devastated me initially: In real-life, I had proposed that IBM be a major sponsor of the International Gay & Lesbian Business Expo (that's what it was called back then, and it was pioneering of the sponsor-companies then). IBM agreed and 24 gay and lesbian IBMers staffed a giant booth at the Expo and we were swarmed with thrilled customers and future customers the whole time. In addition, my colleague and friend Rob Shook and I gave a business workshop, "Cruising the Information Highway," which again, back then was pioneering, and happily, popular.

The night before the workshop, I dreamt that I was helping to set up the booth, taking flyers out of the pedestal cabinets to post on the pedestals and my dad was crouching alongside me as I was bending over to get the fliers. The only statement I recall of his from the dream was, "I'm sorry, Sarah, but I can't stay." And then he disappeared.

I cried about it to my oldest sister right before co-facilitating what turned out to be a wonderful workshop. I was upset that he couldn't stay because I figured he must not have been able to abide by the mission I was serving, didn't approve of my being lesbian and working to advance gay and lesbian business professionals' success.

At my next session with the therapist I was seeing then, I told her the dream and how hurt by it I was. She said, "Don't you see, Sarah? Your father was apologizing. He was sorry that he couldn't be with you for this important event."

I didn't fully believe my therapist, but it was a possible alternate interpretation, and since then, I've tried to believe in her version.

Q: I am so sorry that you were not able to give birth. Does that desire really feel like it has passed, as you write in your narrative, or do you still think about it with regret?...Does that “not being able to empathize with parents” feel troubling? Does your family accept that “inconceivable” part of you? Were they supportive of you trying to conceive, and when they found out you couldn’t? How does not having given birth affect you now, and the choices you make? Are you trying to give birth in figurative ways?

A: Mostly, it has passed. The regret I feel is that I do not feel driven to adopt a child; it's a shame-based regret, really, i.e., I wish I wanted to be any child's mother badly enough to go to any lengths, but I don't, I must admit. The troubling part of not being able to empathize with parents is most apparent to me when I think of my sisters as mothers. They have something in common with each other that I do not share with them.

My family mostly accepts my not having given birth. My mother, I think, is addicted to grandchildren. I was 42 (and still am till July 13th) when Pat and I were in India, and my mother said to me once long-distance, "Sarah, I read that there are many women in India, who would be willing to carry your eggs." I felt much more sad in response to her suggestion than she knew, but I realized that she meant well and could not resist making it, and so I never told her how much pain it caused.

My ability to go to India for six months with Pat for work was possible because we did not have a child, I think; though I saw expats from many countries, living in India with children and teens, including my local manager, who had brought his family from China, I don't think I would have had the wherewithal to do it.

Pat's and my relationship also feels more peaceful than many couples' I've seen, who've got kids. There is less stress, emotionally and financially. There is also less vividness, I believe, and that's a kind of regret, too. I am always trying to nurture people, especially myself, if not also trying to give birth figuratively. Increasingly, I think of my legacy and how I'll need to have a more public one -- or that I aspire to have a more public one -- since there's no guarantee of a next generation, feeling it directly; we have a niece and three nephews, but they will think of their parents' legacy primarily.

Q: I was struck by the fact that you mention realizations that come “after swimming” twice....I was curious – does swimming, or physical activity in general, serve as a means of insight or connection to inner knowing for you? I am interested in somatic knowing/learning...and always find myself noticing and wondering when someone makes the connection between physical activity and knowing. Is this a conscious process for you (meaning, do you use physical activity consciously to resolve inner dilemmas or gain insight)? Or does it just sort of happen? (I read your swimming autobiography on your blog, but it didn’t really answer my questions!)

A: My partner Pat bought a water-tight iPod case that she swims with and I worry about getting one for myself, since I use swimming to improve my mood, to clear my head, to help me think, to relax my spirit, to sing pop songs to myself when no thoughts are urgent and to plan for the coming day's work. I don't get into the pool, promising myself that I'll have breakthrough insights, but often, insights come in parallel with the repetitive stroke I'm doing lap after lap...as if doing movement on auto-pilot enables sharper thinking at the same time.

As a leadership development facilitator, I learned that if I gave program participants things to play with while they were learning, they'd actually focus more so on the learning and be less distracted, e.g., squeeze-balls et al. Also, I feel much more connected to their learning and my own if I shake hands with participants when they first enter the classroom. It's like a mini learning exchange for me with each handshake.

Finally, I read a year or more ago that most leaders are physically graceful, rather than clumsy. I wonder if there's a connection there, i.e., perhaps leaders are more conscious, but not self-conscious, of their bodies and their minds in parallel. Ever since reading that, I've been even more driven to appear graceful when I am in front of a group of people, and even one-to-one.

What If New Jersey Is Next?

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

Is a Wedding in Pat's and My Future?

Evan Wolfson was quoted in today's "New York Times" by Kim Severson:
What you are doing is not just getting a piece of paper, you are getting married and you are as married as just about anybody on the planet. That's how we need to talk about it and understand it ourselves....Getting married in California doesn't solve your day-to-day problems [e.g., being able to give your spouse your Social Security benefits] but that's what civil rights look like.

I don't want to seem churlish or disrespectful, since Evan Wolfson has made marriage equality his life's work, but his bio mentions nothing about his being married himself. It makes him less credible to me because that's how literal I am. If it's so vital, why hasn't he himself married, I wonder...and then I feel guilty, since I know nothing of his life circumstances. And I know how lucky I am to have Pat's companionship, and how elusive love is...so maybe he just hasn't yet found the one.

"Bride and Prejudice" and "The Savages"

Last night, Pat and I watched a double-feature at home -- the most upbeat and least we've seen in a long time, back to back.

Spoiler alert: I will be revealing some of the plot of each film:

As a Freudian slip, above, I typed, "Brides and Prejudice" initially. The Indian film made us miss India more fiercely than we expected -- particularly the music and the colors, which were among our favorite features of living there for six months. It was also interesting and not surprising to watch the prejudice of both families at the prospect of their Indian daughter and white, American son marrying each other.

The second film was darkly funny, but ultimately, made me sad about the childrens' approaches to finding and keeping love, or not. Also, when their father began suffering from dementia, the children put him in a nursing home; the son told the daughter, "We're treating him much better than he ever treated us!"

Having just watched the Indian film, where the American remarked on his admiration for the closeness of Indian families (compared to his, where he was raised by a nanny essentially), I imagined that no such plot as that of "The Savages" would be realistic in an Indian film. No matter how one's parents had treated him or her, I would imagine an Indian adult child, taking in his or her parents or in-laws into his or her home to live with the rest of the family till death....Pat did tell me that India does not offer Social Security, and so that's part of it, but it's also part of the culture to care for older parents.

What Is Our Fate?

Let's say New Jersey comes through by this time next year. Would Pat and I "jump the broom?" After nearly 16 years together and an official, New Jersey domestic partnership, why fix what isn't broken? If a year from now, either of our parents -- God forbid -- suffered from dementia, would we encourage her to live in a nursing home? Yes, though an Indian could not relate to that decision, I know.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

This I Believe

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

Submitted This Morning

Last night at shul (synagogue), Rabbi Kleinbaum talked about NPR's "This I Believe" series, and how she wants to start a program to get the congregation's members each to write our own essay.

She said that she was doing some writing on holiness, and that she was anxious at saying so because, now, she'll never write it, having discussed it mid-stream. Rabbi Kleinbaum said that she believed holiness was whatever increased God's presence in the world, and that we, as humans, had tremendous power to increase, and decrease, God's presence.

I appreciated her expression of self-consciousness about the writing part because that's how I felt, writing my essay this morning. I did write it and did submit it, but it hardly moved me, so I doubt it'll move many others.

I was telling, not showing. After submitting my essay, I went to the archive of essays. Among the top 25 viewed this week, I found one that impressed me in its total honesty.

Oy! That's what it's like to write about the value of being genuine, as I did in my "This I Believe" essay; it's like writing about humor -- not funny at all, typically. Likewise, writing about being genuine, as opposed to just being genuine -- like I am with this blog on a good day -- makes for pretty emotionless reading.

On the submission page, NPR asked:

Reflections:

Please tell us what it was like to write your essay.
Was it an easy or a challenging experience?
Please limit your response to no more than 500 words.

It was pretty difficult to write this essay and I felt that if I wrote too carefully, I'd be paralyzed. And it felt like extra pressure to be writing about my belief in the importance of being genuine, as the writing of the essay was an experience of feeling self-conscious. I'm pretty sure that this ought to have percolated further, and am equally sure that if I had let it, I wouldn't have submitted it; I wouldn't have gotten that far.

Here is the essay itself, which NPR limits to under 500 words:

Being Genuine Connects Me to Humanity

I believe in being genuine. My belief was hard-won. During freshman year in Ann Arbor, I rushed sororities all over campus. My mother had belonged to a sorority and I thought I ought to do the same. I went to the various houses and talked to beautiful women about myself...or about the self I thought would get me invited to pledge.

Just one house, the least prestigious on campus, invited me back for a second round. Hey, I'm from Connecticut and pretty, I groused silently. Why didn't they seek me as a sister?

It's easy, since then, to see how fake I was being with them. Mostly, I concentrated on not seeming flirtatious to my interviewers and on appearing to be an impressive candidate. Being categorically rejected was a blow, and liberating at once: If I could not fit the mold of my mother, I would need to define further who I was.

Since age 11, I was self-aware of my attraction to girls and women, but ran from it till 21, since I had gone to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school for eight years, where I had been taught systematically that I would need to marry a man.

During my junior year in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, at a far enough distance from home, I explored my sexual orientation and twentieth-century Israeli literature – in that order. In early-September of my last year at Michigan, I saw a flyer on campus for a lesbian rap group.

I wore a skirt with a tropical print to the first meeting, telling myself as I walked to the site that if I felt out of place or uncomfortable, I'd just leave. Instead, I felt at home for one of the first times in my life. It took four years, but ultimately, I found the right sorority to pledge.

Ever since my homecoming experience at the lesbian rap group in Ann Arbor more than 20 years ago, I have believed that being genuine connects me to the rest of humanity, including to my family, colleagues and friends, who love, respect and value the real me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gaining Mastery of Web 2.0

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

Qualifying for Gen V and then AARP

This afternoon, one of our company's leaders spoke of how it's not about your age, but that Web 2.0 is for anyone, who gains mastery of it. He also quoted Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who's included in my blogroll, as giving the best definition of Web 2.0 that he's heard: It puts the tools of information production into the hands of humanity,"[rather than just in the hands of the very few.]

Recently, a colleague invited me to a synchronous virtual classroom event, featuring, Carol Rozwell, who is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Collaboration and Social Software team. She said, given that she is "...of a certain age," she doesn't appreciate all of the talk about social networking tools being predominantly adopted by young people. She said that she coined a term for the people of all ages, who love and engage in using the tools of Web 2.0: "Gen V" (I'm guessing the "V" is for Virtual).

Personally, I am more savvy than my nephews and niece on this stuff. Two are teenagers and two are nine-year-old identical twins.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Meeting People from >Dozen Countries...

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

...Face-to-face, in two hours!

This evening, I interviewed 23 managers from 14 countries in 120 minutes. My colleague David, who shot the footage, and I turned it into a looping, 15-minute reel. The reel was designed to play twice during the 30 minutes prior to a presentation the managers and their colleagues from >31 countries were scheduled to attend in <6 hours.

I'm so exhausted, but so gratified.

My favorite part of the editing session was being reminded of when I worked on "The 10% Show" while it was on the air, from 1987-89. The camerapeople and I would sit at a console that was as wide as I am tall, turning knobs to edit through footage. Tonight, I sat at David's desk while he did all of the editing from a large computer monitor and some software that did what the knobs did, only faster.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"I Got It from My Mama"

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

Escaping into Pop Music

There was a popular American song I wrote about while in India. The artist, will.i.am, is asking a series of girls about the origin of their beautiful bodies. All of them sing-chant: "I got it from my mama."

This morning, before, and after, reading Thomas Friedman's and Caitlin Flanagan's and Julie Buxbaum's "New York Times" articles, I'm unable to stop singing a piece of a pop song in my head. "...jeans, boots with the fur; the whole club was looking at her...." I went to check the lyrics and found a crazy mashup of the song with a Teletubbies video on Youtube.

Music vs. Reality

It is a gorgeous day and in 30 minutes, I'll be on my way to the pool for a swim and then we'll be on our way to my mother's to celebrate her. That sounds better than innocuous, right? It sounds lovely. And it can be, but likely not purely so.

This morning, I'm fixated on pop-song choruses because they're easier than reality. The reality is that we need to haul my mom around in a wheel-chair because her broken leg is still healing. And she'll probably never be as mobile as she was prior to the accident.

And with my mother, being 82, we are lucky to have made it this far before there was any sort of major decline. I'm grateful for that. There's no diminished mental capacity on my mom's part; her memory's sharper than mine even, but the physical challenges are undeniable.

Calling My Mom

After reading Thomas Friedman's and Caitlin Flanagan's columns in particular, I wanted to dial my mother's phone number. And yet, a few minutes later, when the phone rang and it was my mother, asking for some chores to be done in her behalf, I couldn't wait to finish the conversation.

I guess I hate chores. Ahd I like blogging.

Why can't it be like it was when both of us were in our skipping prime, when I was seven and she was 47? Why can't my mother be purely a mother to me, rather than partly a mother and partly a daughter?

Both columnists lamented that they couldn't call their mothers even if they wanted to, since they were dead, and that was what I always thought was worst about my father, being gone. I could not call him to brag or complain.

Dreams and Legacies

Probably the most poignant part of Thomas Friedman's column was this statement: "It's so easy to overlook -- your mom had dreams, too."

Yes, my mother had dreams, none of which included a major car accident, or breast cancer (that she's cured of), or an aortic aneurysm, or having a daughter with breast cancer (that she's cured of), or losing her husband to cancer at 56....

She has so far accomplished some of her dreams, though -- of studying in Israel in 1950, of being a journalist before she married, of marrying my father, of collecting and selling primitive Jewish-American and Israeli art....

Those women, responding to will.i.am, said they got their bodies from their mamas. What did I get from my mama? My smile, my enthusiasm, my belief that anything's possible, my love of my culture and religion, and of museums, and my capacity for kindness to others....

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Israel!

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

60 Years Young

Yom huledet samayach. Yom huledet samayach. Yom huleeedet samayach. Yom huledet samayach! If you were in India, the tradition would be for someone to smear birthday cake on your face.

But you're not. You're in the Middle East. I lived with you for a year when you were two years younger than I am now. You were very '80s then. Very Frankie Goes to Hollywood. That's my memory of you and the radio station I listened to when we lived together back then.

You grew the freshest almond trees. You made me feel confident about my ability to be fluent in another language. You didn't laugh at my American accent for the entire year. You provided the world's finest falafel right outside my dorm's doorstep, and sold pizza by the slice, which was topped with canned corn-kernels.

You let me try to find love, you encouraged my daily swims and your rays only burned me a couple of times. My recollection of you is mostly nostalgic and romantic. I left before either of us had lived to see Rabin assassinated by a Jew. Historically-underrepresented groups so often are our own worst enemy.

You are a remarkable 60-year-old relative. Kal ha kavod!/Nice going! And like most of my family, you have delighted and frustrated me over the years, but I am bound to you.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Lesbian Version of...

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

..."My Dinner with Andre"

There was nothing visibly conflicted about it, I hope, but for me, there was more than one layer to it. A former IBM intern (we called them co-ops), who met me through our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employee group in 2001, contacted me last week. She told me that she was going to be visiting her new girlfriend in New York, and would I be able to meet with her while she was there?

Pat was going to be out of town, at her annual Tennessee golfing trip with her former league team. I told the former co-op that I'd be happy to see her again and that her girlfriend was welcome to join us if she were available. We agreed that the three of us would meet for dinner after my class.

Prior to meeting me, they walked around the Columbia campus; it turned out that her girlfriend was a Barnard alumna and also had earned a Masters at Teachers College (TC); the two of us gave my former colleague a brief tour of TC's main building and library briefly and then headed to LeMonde.

The one, really cool feature I showed them was the Millbank Chapel. The door was open, but it was dark. Another woman was wandering through it, looking for the lights. It hadn't yet become dark outside and so there was a bit of sunlight, coming through the stain-glassed windows.

"I was here for a year and never knew about this," said the girlfriend, as I looked at the metal of the organ-pipes, glinting in the bit of light that squeezed through the narrow windows.

The Chair Beside Me Was Empty

At dinner, it emerged that the girlfriend went through a time at Barnard, where she thought she wanted to be a nun. The co-op had come from a deeply evangelical family. Both of them still loved their religion, even as the co-op looked as though she had been bruised by misuse of it by well-meaning, but frightened relatives.

The nearly-former nun was appealing in her long skirt, long hair, long, gold-loop earrings, thong-sandals and dark jean-jacket. The very cute co-op didn't have clothes that I noticed. Consciously, I looked her directly in the eye the whole time. The girlfriend was 36 and had never before fallen in love with a woman. The auburn-haired, former intern was now 27 and was as winning as when she had been an Engineering major, spending the summer at IBM.

They had met in February during a Habitat for Humanity trip to Nicaragua. It was all so vicariously romantic. I still got excited, remembering how I felt around Pat for the first 18 months prior to either of us, being courageous enough to venture into a conversation with each other; I needed to conjure up that time, though, as it was nearly 19 years ago.

Sitting with them, I felt extra-lonely for Pat.

What Makes Couples Last?

"When's she coming back?" my former colleague asked.

"On *Tuesday*, I said forlornly.

"That's tomorrow!" she reminded me.

I smiled. I hadn't realized it.

"My friend got us together," said the girlfriend.

Earlier, when all of us were telling "when we knew" (we were attracted to girls/women), I had mentioned having a physiological response to my friend when we were at the beach at 11, and how upset I was by it. I *knew* that it was momentous, and that I wished I didn't feel how I did.

"That's exactly what happened to me with her," said the girlfriend, pointing at the co-op, "And I thought, I don't need this. I like my life the way it is, and I don't want a long-distance relationship, but then my friend helped me see that life is short -- "

"It is," I confirmed, adding, "And love is elusive!"

My love is home now and yet I'm here, blogging. It just shows that when I need the relief of writing, I need it. I talked with Pat before she turned the light off and she understood. And it'll make joining her for sleep all the sweeter...but first, what was that extra layer to the conversation I referred to above?

It was my disorientation at being with a couple, but not visibly part of a couple myself at the time. That nearly never happened to me and I was unsettled by it.

It was weird, like I needed to borrow some of their couple-energy to sustain me while I sat there on my own. My need made me feel a bit self-conscious. And I was not used to being with a brand new couple either.

"How did you accept your identity, considering your religion?" the girlfriend asked.

I said that I threw it away for some time, but fortunately, found my way back to Judaism because it was too good to give up.

She smiled approvingly, it seemed. She still felt ardently Catholic, and the former intern was fond of being Christian, too. All of us agreed that it was positive that they had religious enthusiasm in common. I offered for them to come with Pat and me to one of our Sabbath services whenever they wished. I hope they will....

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Easing in to Some Peace with My Gender

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

...Just In Time to Lose It

My friend Jack used to produce "The 10% Show." I've written here before that I co-anchored the show on Chicago's Cable Access TV, 1988-91.

This morning, I wrote to Jack, "I was thinking of how boyish I used to be, and how inevitably womanly I've become, just in time to lose my gender, i.e., now, at 42, I think I'm in perimenopause...."



Here I was at 35, at the Millennium March on Washington with the IBM delegation.

When I was four years old, I wore a hand-me-down outfit from my older sisters, which I adored: a navy-blue, corduroy sailor-suit with a matching tam. (I don't know why my mother bought such an outfit for girls, but I wasn't complaining.) One day, while dressed in that outfit, my mother took us to eat lunch at a Ridgeway Shopping Center's restaurant, the walls of which featured Peter Max murals. It was right next to the Finast supermarket. (Both stores are gone now.)

After lunch, I asked my mother to take me to Finast and to buy me a can of spinach. She said that she did not remember this incident when I told her about it as an adult, but my mother complied. I walked around, holding the can of spinach for the rest of our day out, but was disappointed that people didn't notice me, being Popeye. I thought I was so cool, yet no one else seemed to get it.



Just a year after the March, I decided to wear a formal gown of my choice for the first time in my life. The occasion was the GLAAD Awards dinner at the Kodak Theater, where the Oscars are held every year. I wanted to look like a celebrity, and did, I felt.

When I was in high school, no one invited me to my proms. The other two times I had occasion to wear gowns, they were chosen for me, as a bridesmaid for both of my sisters' weddings. When I got to choose, I opted for Armani and bought a pair of Bruno Magli shoes with higher-than-flat heels and long, pointy-toes.

It was a challenge to wear the gown, as I felt aroused by my own beauty in it. Now, I'm waiting a year, till my niece Zoe is 16, so I can give it to her, whose beauty is less conflicted, or at least apparently not conflicted in the way that mine was.



When traveling on business in my late-30s and 40s, I felt drawn to more feminine clothing and jewelry, especially the more remote the country. In 2005, I bought the cinnabar earrings I'm wearing in this picture in Shanghai, and the silk top, in Bangalore. Pat took the photo outside at night, during a trip to the Adirondacks last spring. Regardless of the feminine accoutrements, I looked more handsome than pretty in this photo, I thought.

When I was in my twenties and had much less money, I remember investing in two neckties, one from Liberty of London during a trip to England with my mother that she kindly paid for -- the trip, not the tie -- and another from Brooks Brothers that I felt sheepish, buying, but which I held up to myself in the mirror at the store, rather than trying to pretend I was buying it for a man.



Several weeks ago, my colleague, Mike Gautieri, kindly photographed me at work because I wanted a fresh photo for our employee directory. The Tahari blazer in the photo is from 1990, when red was a hot color for women's jackets, and the black blouse is beaded, by Jaeger, from 10 years ago.

The earrings and necklace are pearls from the same 2005 trip to Shanghai. The only thing new in the photo is my 42-year-old face. This face...and body...are an interesting blend of genders, as I was writing in my previous entry.

The small nail-beds of the long fingers with which I'm typing this blog entry make my hands appear to be more feminine than masculine. I guess I'm a bit melancholy that I can no longer pull off boyishness and am becoming more visibly womanly just in time to become invisible; from my observations, I believe that that's what women become when we age.

Though I was a pretty teenager, I was paid little attention by anyone then. When I came out as lesbian at 21, suddenly, I was noticed by lots of women and felt attractive like never before. I became handsome, and then I allowed bits of prettiness to sneak out now and then, and now, looking at the two most recent pictures here, I want to be at peace with being handsome and pretty in parallel...even if decreasingly visibly.

Friday, May 2, 2008

"I Know This Is Your Issue"

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

Riki Wilchins Told Me Tonight....

"It *is* my issue," I agreed, "And so's my synagogue." In other words, most of our discretionary, philanthropic money goes to our synagogue.

"I understand, but...."

GenderPAC's mission *is* my issue. I'm a woman, who has loved wearing men's ties; who feels aroused whenever I wear traditionally feminine clothing; who never feels at home in mainstream women's organizations; whose best friends are women; who is entranced by beautiful women; who never wants to wear a dress again; who wouldn't wear a sari while living in India out of shyness at bearing any of my torso, even though it's a relatively nice torso; who wishes the general public would recognize what I see as my essential femaleness; who wishes I could wear men's suits and ties and be a "lady-killer;" who wants genderless equality...not equality for the sexless, but for those, who straddle gender.

I have athletic features; women's eyes and brows; a man's jaw; a woman's neck and ears; women's fingers; a man's height; women's hips, but scarcely a woman's chest; a woman's and a man's smile in parallel....