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:


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.

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