Sunday, November 30, 2008

World AIDS Day

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

December 1st

It's hard to believe that World AIDS Day is a group I can join on Facebook. It was nearly 22 years ago that I first became aware of HIV and AIDS; I was ignorant till then, perhaps, since I spent 1985-86 in Jerusalem and didn't make many gay friends till my return, as I was still "on the down-low" myself then.

I did have one gay friend in Israel that I knew of, and he never spoke of AIDS, and apparently behaved as though he was unaware of it. I've run into him at my synagogue's High Holiday services in recent years, and so either he was genetically lucky, or modified his behavior, or both.

How tragic a distance I've traveled since then, losing a number of dear friends, who were just in their twenties, and have had to wonder at God's plan more than I had ever meant to.

This morning, I read an article in "The New York Times" about a reporter's infertility and her decision to enlist a surrogate mother to carry her egg to term after the reporter had been devastated by a number of miscarriages. She wrote that she wanted to do whatever she could to fix God's plan and I thought: Your drive was greater than mine, since only half of the baby's genes would have come from one of us in my family; Pat couldn't contribute, and so after nine IUI attempts, as I've written here before, I gave up and deferred to what I said must have been God's plan.

This occurs to me on the eve of World AIDS Day, I guess, because my inability to create life organically is the closest I've come to dying myself.

Please, God, let me honor the friends I've lost to AIDS through my behavior on the 1st of December and always.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Market Value of My Art

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

The Inclusiveness -- or is it Self-disrespect? -- of Free Access

Earlier this week, I had the following exchange:

"What inhibits you from determining the market value of your art?"

"I’ve never really tried to sell it [just accepted the rate I was paid for four "Michigan Daily" articles; an "Inside Chicago" magazine freelance piece; and a review on an anthology of lesbian plays for the "Lambda Book Report"] and I don’t know what I ought to expect. Also, something in me feels that it’s great to serve people my thoughts for free – that all should have access."

When I told a musician friend about the exchange, he said, "Sure, I have some of my songs on Myspace, but I also have no trouble spending money on a CD, whether new or used, for music I like, and I appreciate people, spending money to buy my music, too."

I was reminded of a bit of a painful e-mail message I received a couple of Mays ago from an artist whose work I reviewed informally on my blog. He wrote to me in an annoyed tone: Why waste my time, blogging? With my talent, he wrote, why not write a real book? He meant to be complimentary and the question has haunted me.

Blogging feels like a miracle to me: a free forum, where I can reach anyone in the world who has computer access -- and even those without computer access can access my blog, if they can get to a public library; I recognize that that's not everyone, but it's potentially still a substantial number of humanity.

Writing a book and having a reputable publisher publish it feels like a miracle, too: a publisher that values my writing enough to want to sponsor my publication enables me likewise potentially to reach anyone with public library access.

What would the topic be? A graphic memoir? A book on how to be an inclusive leader? A guide to thinking creatively while swimming? All-time best songs for disco-rollerskating, including commentary? How to reconcile one's homosexuality with being Jewish? Helping leaders become better leaders through Web 2.0 tools? How to get through grad school after 40?....What could I write that no one else could, and that anyone would consider being book-worthy? Suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Here

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

...Rather than in India this Year

Pat and I are bone-chilled by the recent news from Mumbai. I wrote to my colleague and friend Anita, who lives there, and haven't yet heard back, but I've heard news that so far, so good re: IBMers in Mumbai, which is a relief.

Last year, the only two brands of hotel in which Pat and I chose to vacation were the Taj Malabar in Cochi and the Oberoi in Agra. Both brands were targeted in Mumbai, the news says so far, due to their being frequented by Brits and Americans.

It's odd to feel survivor's guilt from so far away, but we do, and we're so, so grateful to be with our family this year, when last year, we were with an American IBM colleague we had just met, and were a family for one another for a single day. We ate our Thanksgiving meal (no turkey, cranberries or any food that resembled it) in the Rajgarh Restaurant in Palm Meadows.

Please God, protect the people of and in India from any further bloodshed. Amen.

The Women...

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

..of 1939 Compared with Today's

Last weekend, Pat and I watched "The Women," and it came up in conversation with Pat's nearly 85-year-old mother yesterday; we were discussing whether or not all of us ought to go see "The Changeling," based on a tragic, true story that took place in Los Angeles in the late-20s.

Thinking about a woman of the '20s reminded me:

"Bev, we were just watching 'The Women' the other night and it struck me that while the women's fashions of the '20s differed from the women's fashions of the '30s, the fashions of the '40s didn't seem so different from those of the '30s."

"Well, you have to remember that that was the time of the Austerity. And women couldn't always get what they were looking for in stores...."

I never knew what '30s fashions looked like -- just noticed my mom during her college photos in the '40s, and then was struck that the fashions in "The Women" really didn't look so different from what my mom wore, except maybe in terms of the hats. I don't remember hats being as common.

This morning, while swimming at our Wisconsin hotel -- my mom went to the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Class of 1947 -- I was reminded of the Austerity. At 7 am, the air in the glass-walled room with the pool was nippy, and the sun wasn't yet very high, and then the temperature of the pool itself definitely was lower than the Red-Cross-recommended range of 81-83 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I swam anyway -- and I was alone in the room and in the pool...wonder why(!) -- I thought, Perhaps this is how it'll be increasingly for the duration of our country's/world's financial crisis: Pools will become a bit colder, though still swimmable.

My hair has gotten too long not to swim without a bathing-cap and the cap kept trapping water in my left ear whenever I did freestyle. Over and over, I tried to enjoy a new sensation that was reassuring and unsettling at once: When the water trickled back out of my ear, it left a trail of warmth inside my ear.

"Pat, it was weird to be reminded that my insides are warmer than my outsides," I said over breakfast.

"Well, yeah, your body temperature is 98.6 [degrees Fahrenheit]."

..of 1885-1968 Compared with Today's

As I was writing here, Pat read aloud from an October "Vanity Fair" article about Edna Ferber (see this bio and this one, as one's from the Jewish perspective, and one's from the Appleton, Wisconsin perspective). The "Vanity Fair" article refers to her in passing as a lesbian, but I had to search Google, using, "'Edna Ferber' + 'lesbian'" to find references to her sexual orientation.

In college, I discovered Dorothy Parker, of the Algonquin Round Table, but had never before heard of Edna Ferber. And I liked learning about her as we sat in a hotel 30 miles from where she spent most of her adolescence.

Last night, Pat's mother was singing the praises of Rachel Maddow while Pat said, "I've nothing against her, but I don't like to listen to extreme people on either side, right or left. That's why I like CNN -- because they interview people from both ends of the spectrum."

"Well, I think you just feel that she's a really good person, and she was a Rhodes Scholar," said Pat's mom. I listened to Bev talk on about how great Rachel Maddow was and I felt pride and envy all at once. Was Pat's mother liking her because she was a successful lesbian, and her mother needed further proof that one can be openly lesbian and still be successful?

My additional pride was around Rachel Maddow's name sounding Jewish, whether or not she was -- and I just found that her mother's from Newfoundland, so it's not 100% likely that she was raised as a Jew, as Newfoundland doesn't have a big Jewish population that I'm aware of.

And then I felt envy because we watched a bit of her show on MSNBC last night, and I thought, I used to love being on camera for "The 10% Show," that little, but wonderful cable access show we produced in Chicago, which got syndicated, in the late-80s and early-90s. During this trip, even before seeing Rachel Maddow in action, I was thinking that it could be fun to start a vlog because it's fun to share what I'm thinking here in this blog, and in this age, why not also self-publish a video-based show? We'll see....

Meanwhile, in thinking further about women of the last century and this one, I'm struck by how for most of this trip, Pat and I have been wearing jeans, turtlnecks and brand-new sweatshirts vs. the cool clothes they wore in the '20s, '30s and '40s particularly. And how Rachel Maddow, Pat and I can be openly lesbian in this country while Edna Ferber, if she was lesbian, probably could not have been openly so.

Still, we haven't yet fully arrived: When we picked up Pat's mom after landing at the airport, she introduced us to her building manager, "This is my son Jim and my daughter Pat and her friend Sarah."

"Mom, Sarah's not my friend. I don't even like her," Pat tried to make light of it in the car afterward, "She's my partner."

"I know, but you know how people can be. I didn't want to confuse him or worse."

I'm not including this exchange to tell on Pat's mom. She's lovely and inclusive to me always. It's just that women born earlier in the last century sometimes still have trouble with us, it seems; about five years ago, my own mother poured out an envelope of photos she was carrying, to show an ex-boyfriend from her high school days that she ran into in her hometown, Rochester, New York. It included photos of all of her kids and grandkids. Quickly, she handed me the one of Pat and me and whispered, "We don't need to show that one."

Edna, we feel your pain. Rachel, keep impressing and offering reassurance to Pat's mom and others like her through being at the top of your game.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


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

Not for 8th Graders' Eyes Only

If my grandparents on my dad's side -- all of blessed memory -- and my great-grandparents of blessed memory on my mom's side had not left Russia by 1917 and the late-1800s respectively, I would not be posting this blog entry, or working on this project:

Earlier, I gathered what I promised to collect for my small-group online-module design project for 8th graders, and sent the following to my classmates in the group:

Hi, Everyone. Here's my promised followup:

For Challenge 1, A.1.c., here are immigrant images; we can narrow the number/edit the selection, but wanted to provide a bunch/variety:

[I included links to nine images from the Library of Congress web site, but none were usable, as all were generated dynamically for my computer as temp files, I guess.]

For Challenge 2, B.3.a., here's a great site, featuring the photos of a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, "Becoming American: Teenagers and Immigration;" at, students can read as many of the captions for the photos as we I don't need to cull any quotes from that book I referred to; this does the job.

For Challenge 2, B.3.b., here is a site that talks about the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions: train our managers to use open-ended questions when they are coaching their you can say that it's a coaching technique we teach our leaders at IBM if you think that'll be further motivational. [Note: We do not refer to this web site in our IBM training; rather, this was just a useful site I found when I was trawling for "open-ended questions."]

For Challenge 2, B.3.c., here are a couple sites on debating skills and tips:

For Challenge 3, C.2.d., here are some interesting pro- and anti-immigration links:


PRO: (and this one reminds me of a fascinating article from today's NYT; this NYT article's purely fyi....

A Man for All Seasons?

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

Courage or Selfish Self-righteousness?

Of all of the Broadway plays, where we could have run into our friend who's a monk yesterday, "A Man for All Seasons" made the most sense. Our friend had been a VP in IT at JP Morgan Chase, and then took a package. And then 9/11 came and his panoramic view, including of the twin towers, was less desirable. And then his religious calling was more desirable and he sold his home and worldly belongings, and finally joined a monastery on the Hudson River.

It made sense that our friend would be drawn to a play about the Lord Chancellor in King Henry VIII's court, who went to his death for his religious convictions. In our case, it was simply one in a series of plays to which we had subscribed. He was meeting friends there, but we caught up at the intermission a bit.

Talking about the plot, our friend said to our other friends and Pat, "That's why I like Sarah," he said, "Because she has a conscience." I was thrilled and completely self-conscious at once -- afraid of coming off as self-righteous, and reminded of what a thin line it is.

At dinner, one of our friends said, "I thought that Sir Thomas Moore was amazing, but as we're sitting here now, I wonder if he wasn't selfish, thinking of his convictions at the expense of his family, who also suffered as a result.

Conscience or Judgmental Self-rigtheousness?

"I want to tell you a story that doesn't necessarily reflect well on me," I said. "Years ago, I had a bulimic friend, who I had known since we were 15, and who was not trying to end the bulimia, but rather was in denial about it. She stole a cookie from the bin while we were grocery-shopping at age 22. I was upset with her, especially when her response was, 'Don't worry, I'd just bat my eyes at the Produce boy if I had to.'"

"At the time," I continued, "I was most disturbed by her plan to charm her way out of the shop-lifting incident, and I also judged her: I decided that she figured, If I don't pay for the cookie, then I didn't eat it, which I decided was more evidence of her denial of her eating disorder. I had no compassion for her and never forgot that it had happened."

"A year later, my friend had just taken the Bar exam for Law school and had passed, and apparently had given my name as a reference for the State Board to call, without asking me. I answered the phone and the spokesperson asked me to give a reference for my friend. I said that I couldn't."

"When I spoke with my friend, I told her why I felt I couldn't provide a reference and she responded breezily, 'Don't worry. I just gave them another name.' But we were never friends after that."

"Oh, they called you?" Pat said, "I didn't remember that."

"Yeah, and I wouldn't give a reference. Of course, as you know, she's a hugely successful partner in a top-tier global law firm now [Google confirmed it], and so my act of conscience or self-righteousness didn't ultimately harm her future."

"I'd have done the same thing," said one of our friends.

"Are you just saying that because we're trying to be friends?"

"*Trying?*" said her partner.

"I just meant that these are the early days [of the friendship]," I said.

"No, I really think I would have done likewise, but then I"m really a rules-based sort of person."

"So am I," said Pat.

Our other friend, I could tell, saw it as complex and not clear.

"I don't ever remember doing anything for which I wasn't prepared for the consequences," Pat said.

I feel defensive as I write this: When it came time to endorse my friend, it was her bald lack of contrition that made my compassion impossible...of course, I know that if I were a better person, it's likely that I would have found a way to have a further conversation with her about the episode, and to gain some resolution about it, so that I'd never have had to disappoint her during her road to her profession.

It's moments like this series with my friend that stay with me 20+ years later and that were triggered by the on-stage drama. I'm sure that our friend, the monk, would have had a lovelier way of handling the dilemma than the way I chose....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So Brief...

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

...It Ought to Be a Tweet

Earlier in the week, I looked adoringly at one of our cats and she returned my glance, and it struck me that we love each other even though we cannot speak each other's language.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Swimming on a Horse

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

I've Never Done It, but a Colleague Has

She told me it's like being on a horse on a merry-go-round. What a marvelous-sounding experience...if only I knew how to ride on land before- and afterward. Life offers so many experience possibilities, if one lives long enough.

Today, I felt extra-alive. My friend and colleague, who lost her 10-day-old baby recently and I had lunch at her work-site.

The baby was already handsome and somehow adult, like I could tell how good-looking and suave he'd have been as a man, just looking at his dark eyebrows, handsome features and neat, black hair in the days-old photos. His humanity tore at me. His mother's Facebook profile still features gorgeous pregnant photos of my colleague and friend. He was the size of a doll, and yet seemed powerful in parallel.

Seeing him made me feel more alive. Witnessing snapshots of his brief life pumped up mine with some further purpose somehow.

My colleague and friend looked great and I told her so, and I felt suddenly inappropriate and cringed visibly.

"No, I'm glad you think so," she said.

She looked even more feminine than usual, and even more full of dignity. How does someone crawl out of bed after such a personal cataclysm, let alone look better than ever? Maybe her humanity, too, was even more visible than usual and that conferred extra beauty. Anyhow, I felt a little distracted by it, and by the delicious smell of the Indian cafeteria food I had ordered; it was Indian cuisine day.

Everything she said sounded extra-wise. It was awesome, i.e., awe-inspiring to be with someone who was surviving a deep heart-stab...metaphorically, but almost not just metaphorically. At one point I said something I can't recall, but it made both of us laugh hard and I felt immediately guilty. In Jewish tradition, we are supposed to avoid generating humor around mourners...and yet the sound of her laugh made me try to pretend in my mind that it hadn't happened, for a moment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kristallnacht Shabbat

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

70-year Anniversary

Every year for the past 12 that we've lived in metro-New York, we have skipped the Shabbat service at our synagogue that commemorates Kristallnacht. We haven't wanted the downer that we figured it would be. Gross, I know.

It's not that I resolutely avoid thinking about the Holocaust; I took a graduate-level history course on it at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies when we lived in Chicago and thought about little else for a solid semester...not to mention that it's often on the back-burner of my consciousness in daily life. It has been my luxury not to have it be on the front-burner; while my first cousins' mother was a survivor and my childhood friend's father, too, my parents' parents and grandparents all had left Russia by 1917.

This is a photo of my grandmother and great-grandmother of blessed memory on my dad's (z"l) side. I am not sure when it was taken, or for what occasion. What if they had not made it to Washington, D.C. as immigrants? My dad and I would never have been born. Fortunately, they did, and we were.

The father and grandfather of our friend and fellow congregant, Rick Landman, were arrested on Kristallnacht and taken to Dachau. Rick has written a book that Pat has read, and which she says is great. Understandably, he probably thinks about what happened in Germany nearly continuously.

Glad We Went to Shul

We heard Rick speak last night and I needed to learn the story of the Torah he dedicated to a shul in Germany; he mentioned that right before coming to services, he received e-mail that the architect of the German synagogue's new building will be Daniel Libeskind. Rick tells much more about Kristallnacht, his family's experience and highlights some of our synagogue's past Kristallnacht programs here.

In the car on the way home, Pat said, "You really get a different picture of Rick from reading his book. [Rick is always just joking around with us before and after services and that's about the only picture I've had of him historically.] He's got a history of being an amazing organizer."

"Well, he really seems to be driven for his extended family's deaths to be avenged by his good work," I said, "And I guess there's definitely that bright side to being the child of Holocaust survivors -- that lifelong drive to leave an affirmative legacy." Of course, I want to leave a legacy, too, but I think there's an added impetus in the case of some children of survivors.

The Service Was Profound, Exquisite

Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke of the murder, earlier this week, of Marcelo Lucero: "We wonder how the Nazis could have done what they did and then right here in New York, teenagers went looking to hurt a 'dirty Mexican,' and killed an Ecuadorean just this week....I've asked one of our congregants, Francisco Ordonez, from Ecuador himself, to read a poem he wrote to us."

Francisco stood on the bimah (pulpit) and recited it. He kindly agreed to give me a copy afterward, and that I could blog about it. Here it is:

"Long Island, Potatoes, Suburbia"

Long Island - a land of potato farms
I am Ecuadorean from the land of the potatoes.
It feels just natural that we belong her in a mystical link to this island.

My brother's house is here.
The beach house of Taita Stan,
Thanksgiving, Pesaj, the school of the child.
Fire Island, Central Islip, Great Neck, Smithtown and Babylon

The trains full of people and
Less frequent than the number one

You welcome the potatoes and Suburbia Levittown.
I am Ecuadorean, I am the new one among the newest inhabitants
Koreans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Irish, Germans.

Brother Marcelo Lucero, your home was here you worked here
[Musical notes] Start spreading the news [more musical notes]
some of the highest leaders of
our community
also have blood on their hands
Trade his life for votes

We are from the Andes, the land is our mother
In Long Island we feel like happy potatoes in the Pachamama love
Pachamama is land, Long Island is our pachamama too.

"to beat up some Mexicans"
Look at him he is mexican,
Insult me I am latino
Beat me, I am Mexican.
Stab me I am illegal
Kill me, kill me I am nothing

This time, It was him, tomorrow

Shema Koleinu
Esuchame, Hear Our Voice.

Est ist in November, ein Bahnhof in einer kalte Naacht
Es un dia de Noviember, en la estacion del tren una noche fria.
It is November, It is a train station, and it is a cold night

Now, What do I say to the children? -- Francisco Ordonez

On the back of the poem, Francisco included notes on how potatoes originated in the Andes; on how Levittown was built on 4,000 acres of potato fields; on the goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes, Pachamama (Mother Universe); "Shema Koleinu," the prayer on Yom Kippur, where we beg God for pity and compassion; and on how Kristallnacht, which happened on November 10th, was, "...the beginning of the systematic eradication of a people who could trace their ancestry in Germany to Ancient Rome and served as a prelude to the Holocaust that was to follow." What an extraordinary voice and soul!

And then we also heard other, striking, beautiful art from the mouths of a guest quartet, who sang selections of the Shabbat liturgy, using tunes by German-Jewish composers, Eduard Birnbaum, Emanuel Kirschner and Louis Lewandowski.

The quartet featured Lisa Arbisser, Kyle Bielfield, Donna Breitzer and Vladimir Lapin. All of the singers seemed to be in their early-to-mid-20s. I watched the tender face of the soprano, Lisa, as the rabbi and cantor said poignant things about the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and watched her bow out of the corner of my eye during the Aleinu prayer, and thought, For all of their masterful singing, perhaps only one of them is at all observantly Jewish....Maybe some of the others bowed, too, and I just failed to see them.

I spoke with a couple of them afterwards, "Thank you for such a beautiful experience. All of you seem to have German last names. Are all of you from German backgrounds?"

"I'm Russian-Jewish," said Vladimir, who was taller than I, with nearly black hair. My throat caught, as I thought of the irony of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, singing German-Jewish compositions; the truism was that historically, a number of German-Jews looked down on Eastern-European Jews as the peasant-class of Jews -- I'm from that peasant class, too. There we were, two, tall Russian-Jews with German-appearing last names, meeting at the world's largest synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and our friends and family. I don't know if he was gay or not, but I loved his deep singing voice and the dignity it conferred on every note he sang.

And then Kyle said something about being the great-grandchild of someone, who had somehow been affiliated with the Kaiser in Germany -- I didn't hear the exact role. Wow, another beautiful irony. I'm pretty sure this video might be of Kyle nearly a decade ago, where he's singing spiritual music in English. Today, he looks like a surfer, who can sing. Pat thought he was cute like Rob Lowe, and I thought he was cute like Rob Lowe with a surfer's or sail-boat sailor's haircut.

It makes sense that he would still be singing spiritual music of any sort, and it's poignant to me that he was able, and willing, to learn how to sing it all in Hebrew, if he's not Jewish. Kyle wore a small, silver Chai at the base of his throat, which moved me, too. It sat right on top of where the beautiful music was coming from. "Chai" is the Hebrew word for "Life."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honoring Differences...

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

And Discovering Common Ground

A couple of days ago, I was fortunate to participate in a really cool meeting for work, including 16 women and a four men, discussing how to help our companies' managers and leaders help their employees and peers meet work-life integration challenges. To my knowledge/gaydar, I was the only non-heterosexual person in the room.

But First, a Bit More Self-segregation

Now, why would I even notice something like that? Why would I scrutinize the demographics of the room? Because I always do, wherever I am. Being part of an often stealthy, and even sometimes invisible, historically-underrepresented group, I'm wired that way: Is anyone else here from my tribe?...Oh, and of course, I notice people with Jewish last names, too. I say, "Of course," since it's my nature to look for people, who are at least on the surface like me, to feel less alone.

While 90 percent of the people in the room were women, at times, I felt like a tourist, not a native, e.g., whenever I couldn't relate to what some of what was being said, e.g., smiling about husbands' behavior...of course, I could be a single, heterosexual woman and feel similarly apart, but....

Certainly, I wanted to be a respectful tourist and not the equivalent of the ugly foreigner, and so I mostly just listened, rather than trying to interject whenever something didn't feel familiar to me.

The group was well-established, and had met many times prior, and I was invited as a guest speaker about how our company designs leadership development learning now and in the future. By design, then, I was not part of the group...and yet, since it was predominately women, I wanted to feel akin, even as I was dubious that I would.

One of the women, like me, was unusually tall, and had a Jewish name -- whether or not she was Jewish -- and both of us were huge Web 2.0 fans. And yet her very visible pregnancy felt like a club that I was not able to join. I feel like I'm whining here, and I don't mean to do so.

The woman and I had a raft of things in common, and yet I felt apart from her...and then I went to her blog and saw that her most recent entry talked of how she felt somewhat restless/anxious/off-track about her career, since she was pregnant. Everyone has a reason to feel alienated, I guess. It's important to remember that more often. During that day, I wish I'd remembered to do what my mom suggests when I'm feeling awkward in a crowd of new people: "Try and make someone there feel comfortable and you'll forget about your own awkward feelings."

Joining a Roomful of Our Own

By contrast, tonight, I walked into a room full of 16 corporate lesbian and bi women, and two or three heterosexual women, at one of their Time Square offices, and it was like getting into a warm bath. I don't want to feel guilty for feeling so at ease compared with Tuesday.

It's like the treat we had, downloading "Mad Men" on our computer while we lived in India last year; sure, it was full-on American TV, but we were still extending ourselves culturally the vast majority of the time. So what if we allowed ourselves the guilty pleasure of feeling cozily at home now and then?

Who Are Our Allies?

The group was having its second meeting tonight and the premise of both meetings was to brainstorm ways to help lesbian, bi and transwomen be as visible as they want to be and unlimitedly successful in corporate environments. The theme of tonight's meeting was "Allies."

And I brought up how I felt on Tuesday compared to tonight, and how I need to overcome that, since heterosexual women are a huge, potential and actual pool of allies.

"What do you mean you feel awkward among the women's group at work? Don't you have any female friends, who are heterosexual?" asked one of the women, incredulous.

"Yes, and I even have sisters [who are heterosexual]...." But I was referring to the institutional group of women at work. It's the institutional group, where I feel awkward. I never feel like I'm one of them."

"I can relate," said one of the women across from me.

At the end of the evening, I said, "I think it's that I don't even really feel like a woman when I'm with them. First, before everything else, I feel like a lesbian."

"I agree. First, I feel bisexual and then black or female," said another woman.

Allies for the Picking

Earlier in the evening, we discussed other types of allies we had experienced and thought we could cultivate. And I said that we ought to think further about engaging religious allies. "After all," I said, "In India, our GLBT employee networking group is co-led by a devout Hindu, a heterosexual woman, who says, 'I believe in anything that advances humanity.' And our senior executive sponsor there is Sikh. And he says, as a Sikh, he must stand up for what is right, whether or not it is popular."

The facilitator of the meeting, who was a heterosexual woman, and lovely, asked fantastic questions, including: "How do you create change? Do you have rewards for allies? What do you want allies to say? To do?"

"Allies need to tell our stories," one of the women answered. "They can sell us better than we can sell ourselves...."

Another woman said, "Let's not forget a really powerful group of allies: the women, sitting around this table!" Amen.

Flirty Comrade

This meeting of brainstormers, twice now, has hit the spot. I am a pendulum, though. I went from fighting awkwardness on Tuesday to being perhaps overly comfortable earlier: "You look so handsome tonight," I told one of the women in front of the group she was talking with. She was wearing a navy suit with a navy, pin-striped shirt and a bright, yellow-silk scarf tied almost like an ascot. What am I saying, I asked myself, but then felt happy that I had felt free to tell her. And how harmless. And how great, to have a place, where I felt OK to compliment another lesbian woman so baldly, so safely.

And afterward, I walked out of the ladies room just as another woman from the meeting was headed to the elevator-bank. "I'll walk out with you, if that's OK," I said to her. We talked about the web and how we had had similar jobs on it.

"Probably, it was before your time when I worked on"

"*I've* been working on the web, since 1995."

I smiled, thinking of the pride that those of us, who started back then felt about our early adoption, and said, "No, I didn't mean to doubt that you had started in the early days of the web -- I was just trying to compliment you." Ew, gross. How did I become smarmily flirty so quickly?

She laughed indulgently, and then I thought, Uh-oh, I really *was* flirting just then. "Which way are you going from here?" I asked.

"Just around the corner, to the subway," she said.

"Ah, well I can help till then," I said and opened my giant IBM golf umbrella.

"How nice," she said, and I felt gallant.

"Where's the entrance to the subway?" I asked as we rounded the corner.

"Right here," she said.

"Too bad." [Oh, God. Just stop!]

She laughed softly again.

I cringed to myself after she turned into the subway. Oy!

No wonder I can feel like an interloper among mainstream women's groups at work. My brain does not work the same way as heterosexual women's do....I know, I know: No one's brain works the same way as anyone else's. Still....

And then there was another great woman I met at tonight's meeting who wanted to be a rabbi, but ended up at a technology company instead. "We both wanted to do that [ -- be a rabbi]," I said, "But..." --

"Not enough," we said at the same time and smiled at each other, feeling rueful and validated at once.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sunny Day

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

At Least in My Head, Anyway

It has been rainy outside for much of today, and it's dark now. A noticeable number of my Facebook friends designated their status as "sleepy" or "reading" or "relaxing."

What's sunny, for me, is coming out of my funk about the recent initiatives that didn't go my people's way. Two leaders helped me shift my attitude: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Tracy Baim.

Last night, during Shabbat services, Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us that the White House, where President Elect Obama and his family will soon live, was built by slaves from Africa. She called it a miracle -- the history of our country's progress.

And she said that if anyone felt upset at how various religious communities voted on the ballots we cared about, then we should stop and consider that certainly, as recently as 30 years ago, the [whole] Jewish community would have voted the same way.

Rabbi Kleinbaum said that it's a shame how religious people are being demonized -- my word, not hers -- when there's a whole bunch of progressive, religious communities out there. My dear friend Marni just introduced me to another voice among them today: a blog by a rabbinical student, "The Velveteen Rabbi: When can I run and play with the real rabbis?"

And Tracy Baim, who is among the best journalists and GLBT community voices I'm honored to know, wrote a great reality-check, too. What was our part in the failure? Why weren't we a more racially inclusive community all these years? Writing this feels potentially inflammatory of my comrades in the GLBT community, but I'll speak for myself when I observe that the GLBT Community has all too often, historically, looked like the G Community in terms of visibility, and especially the gay, white male community.

Pat just taught me the word in American Sign Language for "Jew," which she learned at her ASL class the other night: It's a matter of taking a fist and dragging it down from one's chin, i.e., to suggest a beard; I am Jewish and cannot grow a least not yet! My parallel is that all too often, when people think of Jews, they think of men. Jews are also female.

Women, historically, worldwide, have been less visible and less audible than men. There needs to be no bitterness on my part about the lack of visibility, but rather just a commitment to help change it. Likewise, personally, I've benefited from white privilege and I need to be even more conscious of trying to include people of color in my communities.

Rabbi Kleinbaum's point was huge last night: Congregations like ours, with progressive leaders, have had a hand in helping a number of the Jewish community shift our thinking to be more inclusive over the past 30 years. That's not what she said explicitly, but that's what I understand as I reflect here now.

And that message makes me feel so sunny because it empowers me. Tracy Baim's message empowers me likewise; From her points, I infer: Don't blame others for not getting what you want. Rather, be more inclusive of others and then they'll be more inclusive of you over time.

Maybe we'll see New York and New Jersey enable same-gender couples to marry relatively soon as the result of behaving as Rabbi Kleinbaum and Tracy Baim encourage.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Smart Planet?

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

Joy and Pain Return

In more than one past blog entry, I referred to joy and pain as "fraternal twins," but perhaps I should have called them conjoined twins, as they have seemed inseparable, especially lately.

In the past several days, I saw marvelous Halloween-decoration festooned homes all over our town -- artful in some cases! -- and then November 1st was my dad's 26-year death anniversary.

Over the weekend, I learned that my friend and colleague's 10-day-old baby died and I felt helpless, as I wasn't sure how to honor her grief; I didn't know Trinidadian mourning rituals. Then I was pleased to learn that my colleague and friend would be happy to have a tree planted in her son's memory. It is relatively common for Jews from all over the world to have a tree planted in Israel for a variety of life-cycle occasions, including a death, and so I had one planted in the United States...and then was gratified to discover that there's a Coretta Scott King Forest in Israel, and so I had a tree planted there in memory of my friend's baby, too.

I wrote to my friend:
My most recent visit to Israel was in 2002 with my mother, and one afternoon, we accompanied a blind tour group to plant trees on a hilltop. It was incredibly touching to see them, alongside us, patting down the dirt, and touching the little, seedlings, since they couldn't see them.

And then Election night was historical for its elevation of a member of an historically-underrepresented group, and would have been historical no matter the winner. But then by the next day, I felt disappointed by the outcomes of some key initiatives; people's beliefs were not better or worse than mine, just different.

And Still More Joy, and More Pain

It's not about waiting for the pain half, as that always seems to come, but right now, I want to celebrate a double joy:

This morning, I was so tired, as I had class last night for my part-time Masters program, and then stayed up till 1:30 am to participate in an internal, online class with peers in Russia, Australia, India and other places, so that I could learn during their timezone convenience...and then I had a 7 am meeting that couldn't be moved. This is all a preface for telling you about an online invitation I saw as a gift when I logged on and how it energized me:

Our intranet's editor sent a flattering note to a relatively small number of us, letting us know he had permission to share the Chairman's remarks with us [nearly 90 minutes] ahead of time, and added, "'re some of the most widely-read bloggers on our intranet and it would be great to read your thoughts on this topic."

Wow! Who knew? I realize how grossly self-serving this might seem, my posting about this, but it's really a dream for me to be acknowledged as a writer whose words are valued by people other than me, and it's the second time this quarter that it has happened at work on this scale; the first was being interviewed, among others, for an intranet feature story on why I write articles for Bluepedia, our internal version of Wikipedia; it's all things IBM, by IBMers. I was asked because I was among the top 10 most prolific authors in the company. Again, who knew?

Sharing all of this is also a way to soothe myself for appearing here a bit less often than I have done historically, i.e., I've not necessarily slowed down with my writing, but just have done a bunch of it behind our firewall....Still, this is where I come to write for pure fun, and so I need to be here, too.

The double joy was being invited to blog about the Chairman's remarks, and then the remarks themselves, which I thought showed bold leadership and included an appealing invitation to action.

And then the pain-twin appeared: In the same newspaper, where I got to read about the visionary company I work for, and feel prouder than ever to be an IBMer, I had to see, "Bans in 3 States on Gay Marriage." Our friends Jane and Christie, a married, California couple, felt all of the past couple of days' events around the election and Prop 8 extra-viscerally. Christie blogged about it, and I passed along a wise comment from my mom in response, as a comment on the blog entry.

In addition to trying to follow my mom's advice, I'm recalling what usually restores and salves me: channeling indignities/pain into art, e.g., writing about them, so that others can relate. (I'm doing something I've never before done and taking a totally non-secret blog entry that I posted on my internal blog, "Learning for Fun and Profit," and re-posting from it here:)
Becoming smarter
Sarah E. Siegel Today 11:53:13 AM

Here is my interpretation of our chief leader's call to action in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations:

1. Believe in, and scaffold, our planet's growing intelligence
2. Imagine the positive possibilities that more intelligence will enable
3. Do your part collectively and individually to realize the possibilities.

Here is how I pledge to act on the call to action:

1. Demonstrate, observe and encourage open minds and open systems
2. Think strategically (everyone can do so by reading and absorbing Julia Sloan's Learning to Think Strategically)
3. Promote the value of being a global IBMer and be a global IBMer myself.

(I linked from the first occurrence of "global IBMer" to another totally non-secret posting I wrote recently in the same blog, and which I'll share here:)
What is a global IBMer?
Sarah E. Siegel 31 Oct

I think a global IBMer is any IBMer who:

  • Uses the IBM Values when making business decisions
  • Is a mensch (in the Yiddish sense of the word, i.e., humane being)
  • Listens well and non-judgmentally
  • Is curious about others' cultures and seeks to learn about them
  • Understands that people's cultures are not better or worse, but rather just different
  • Has studied at least one foreign language, which demonstrates some knowledge of another culture.

What have I left off the list? Anyone else have additional ideas? If so, I welcome your comments.

Note: The IBM Values are Dedication to every client's success; Innovation that matters -- for our company and the world; and Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. I'll just keep trying to live this way while also trying not to come off as self-righteous -- a fine balance.

For all the earnestness of this particular posting, I'm happy to finish it because it's kitty feeding-time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Inspired by Michael Baisden

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

Reprinted from

Touched by your leadership

* Posted by Sarah Siegel on November 3, 2008 at 5:21pm

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

Recently, I heard Cornel West on your show, praising your leadership. I was first impressed by you when you played "I'll Be Around" by the Spinners when discussing helping gay, (lesbian, bisexual and transgender) youth to feel less alone. [Ed. Note: Thinking more about this, I think Michael Baisden was referring to how parents, or older relatives, could react lovingly to gay (GLBT) kids coming out, and then he announced this song and then played it.]

In 1987-90, when I lived in Chicago, I was a youth group advisor for a GLBT youth group and I know that all of the youth would have loved the inclusive message you sent by playing that song in the context of the discussion you were leading.

Tonight, on my way home to Montclair, New Jersey from Westchester County, I listened to you tell a caller that you're not interested in erasing color, but rather in continuing to notice it. I agree. Part of your point, I think, was that it'll never not be noticed anyhow.

My reason for wanting not to erase color is purely affirmative: It's the same as my not wanting to erase any differences among people. How boring the world would be if all of us tried to assimilate to a particular standard.

Please keep your strength and keep going with your messages!


Sarah Siegel (

Tags: color, difference, glbt, inclusion, race

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Vibrant-colored Day

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

"Go Blue!" Colors Out My Window

Right now, the maple tree-leaves in our front yard are mostly bright-yellow and the sky behind it, bright, cloudless blue -- reminds me of my alma mater's school colors. I'm also reminded "Joy and Pain" by Maze with Frankie Beverly. I've written about this song a number of times because it's so like life. And then there's also Rob Base's sampling version.

Today, I'm still thinking about my colleague's/friend's loss of her new baby, which I first wrote about yesterday, and am marveling at how I could be aware of such a sad event, and then wake up to such a glorious day today.

Earlier, those Colors, and Others, Surrounded Us

We went for a walk, rather than swimming this morning, and our neighbor was finishing a stroll with her Great Dane, Jack. Jack has tiger-stripes and looks like this, but much bigger.

Jack had a different coat of fur than the Great Dane I remembered whose fur was a shiny, charcoal-gray. "Oh, last November, I came home and found him paralyzed from the waist down and we had to put him down. I think he had a stroke," she explained.

We were living in India then. More joy and pain. Their other dog was an affectionate sweetie, but this dog charmed me, too, and all the more so, since now, we're pet parents ourselves. I couldn't get over his mini tiger-stripes.

A dog like that is so captivating, it's hard to focus on the owner, but finally, I looked up and saw that she was wearing a long, tan, down-filled coat, which featured kids' pictures all over it.

"You let your daughter draw on your coat. How great!"

"Oh, it was any of the kids in the neighborhood, with magic markers." Our neighbor is a clothing designer and this was a fantastic piece.

We talked about our cats, and their nails, and how we're not de-clawing them; our neighbor offered a scratching post that their cats had rejected. This was the same neighbor to whom we gave extra iris bulbs, and who gave us a spare azalea shrub.

Hope, Delivered

The walk began that way and was golden throughout, including the funny, post-Halloween scenes we saw in people's yards, including the five pumpkins lined up side-by-side near Valley Road on Alexander, each of which featured one letter and spelled O B A M A. Montclair, where we live is predominately an enclave of Democrats.

People's senses of humor in how they decorated for the holiday plus the gorgeous fall weather plus the extra hour we gained with changing the clocks back pre-sleep last night plus even our experience at the grocery store after our walk made me feel hopeful.

The woman in front of us spent $338 -- two cartsful(!) -- but also saved $71 in coupons! Pretty neat to save a nearly quarter of her shopping-bill. Her secret, compared to our coupon collection, was that she had printed out a bunch of coupons from the web.

Further Joy and Pain

Even as I'm smiling about how the day has gone so far, thinking of my friend's loss reminds me of some of the saddest songs I've ever heard, too. The songs I know of Neil Young, for instance, are included among them, and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," and also Tom Waits' The Piano Has Been Drinking, Not Me." The saddest song I've ever heard, though, is this one.

It struck me that all of these sad songs were composed and performed by men, and then I recalled Janis Ian's, "At Seventeen" and IBM alumna, Sandra Grace's, "Stay With Me..." and Barbra Streisand's "Cry Me a River" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?"

All are songs that when I hear them, whether or not the melodies are sad, which most are, make me feel sad. And here are a few more: "Holding Back the Years" by Simply Red, one of my favorite groups/artists, "Sarah, Sarah" by Jonathan Butler, Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas" and "Running Up That Hill..." by Kate Bush.

Another friend just called and I told her about my colleague and friend's baby, and how I'd been listening to sad songs this afternoon. She said, "You need to listen to some happy songs."

"That's what I always listen to," I said, "I'm always surprised when friends tell me they don't like dramatic plays because I love a good drama, but when it comes to music, most often, I listen to happy stuff. I just wanted to listen to the sad ones because of the baby."

When there's a death of an immediate family member in Jewish tradition, we're not supposed to hear any music for a year. After my dad died, I came back to my public high school, and I've written before that an ad for an upcoming dance played over the PA system my first morning back; a snippet of one of that time's biggest hits, Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," played, and I burst into tears, hearing it.

Here's one for the friend who called me: The Girl from Ipanema....Actually, this one, despite the upbeat tempo, makes me sad, too. How can I do anything other than honor my colleague and friend with sad music today? Here's a little poem, the best I can do:

"Life Lost and Found"

Baby, baby, baby,
why, why, why?

My friend, you have
lost him, but his soul did not die

He just went beyond your field of vision,
and your shocked eyes cry

Ultimately, he will make you the
strongest family alive, no lie.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I've Tagged It Eight Times to Date

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


My blog entries include a tag for "grief" more than any other tag. Grief inspires me, or is it the suffering and struggling that accompanies it that moves me most?

A colleague and friend who I love has had, from my frame of reference, the worst possible event occur. Late last night, I learned that her child died. He was 10 days old. I didn't know I loved my colleague and friend so strongly until this happened, and probably, I might have never told her otherwise.

Ten years ago, I was her manager. Ever since, she and I have been in a mentoring relationship and friendship in parallel.


At least a decade ago -- we might have been simply on the same team at that point -- I gave her a ride to a lunch-place near our office in Somers. I had been listening to an Aaliyah tape during my commute that morning and it blasted when I turned on the engine.

I was embarrassed because it was Aaliyah's hit, "Hot Like Fire," but my colleague and friend agreed it was a great song and so we listened to it, speeding down the driveway of IBM's marketing world headquarters.

What a relatively care-free time!

More Grief

And then Aaliyah died in a plane-crash in late-August, 2001...and then September 11th happened less than a month later....

My colleague and friend has a healthy, smart, talented son in high school. Her new baby was another son. He had a name. He fought for more than a week, though he had been born at 25 weeks, rather than nine months. According to the birth announcement for him, he was tiny, though strong.

If she were Jewish, I'd head over to her family's house on Sunday with food. It would be a natural response during the first eight days of any Jew's grief over losing immediate family members. My colleague and friend is Trinidadian and not Jewish, though.

C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, from a Christian perspective and Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, from a Buddhist angle, have helped me in recent years to feel the grief of my father's death as deeply as I needed to do. Exactly 90 days after my dad's death, Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People came out. I've not been attracted to it, and never have read it.

Perhaps, it was because I resented all of the well-meaning people, who told my family and me that we should read it when it came out. We were given more than one copy. At that point, I could not see to read. I was blind with shock. It seemed that they were trivializing my dad's death by handing us a pop-culture grief book, though I've since heard that it's genuinely comforting.

Grief Relief

When my dad died, I was a high school senior and two of my high school friends, Erica and Mark, a couple, showed up at my door with a gift of a Siamese fighting fish. I think I've written about this here before. They were Japanese-American and Chinese-Irish-American, and had no idea of Jewish mourning customs, and I've never forgotten their kindness.

They said, "The fish reminded us of when you wear your turquoise oxford shirt and the magenta lipstick." I had bought the lipstick in Spanish Harlem, at a store near the hospital, where my dad lay dying, and I wore it all fall to cheer myself.

I need to think of the equivalent to giving my colleague and friend a Siamese fighting fish.

And More Grief

My colleague and friend was sensitive about telling me of her pregnancy, since she knew I had tried to become pregnant nine times by IUI, unsuccessfully. And when she did finally tell me, I was pleased for her, and unfortunately, yes, a bit jealous.

She is younger than I was when I was trying to become pregnant, between ages 36 and 38, and I remember calling off the quest when it came time to opt for IVF. Miscarriages had happened to others in my family and I couldn't bear the thought of being pregnant and then losing the baby.

Growing up, my mother always said that the worst thing that could happen to parents was to survive their children. She said it so often, and when my sister Kathy had breast cancer, I know it weighed on my mother. Thank God Kathy survived and is once again healthy.

Another piece of my frame of reference comes from Yiddish/Jewish culture. I've written here prior that it's standard to call little girls, "Mamele,"/"Little Mama" and little boys, "Tatele"/"Little Papa" -- that's how heavy the expectation is that a Jewish child will grow up to produce more Jewish children.

At a holiday party several years ago, an IBM VP, who has since retired, told me that no work-pressure she ever felt was too much because she had had a baby die, and after that trial, nothing could rattle her.

My colleague and friend's death announcement of her baby was so brave in tone and I agree with her that I believe everything happens for a reason, but that's slim consolation, I think, really. Rather, what has consoled me about losing my father so young is how empathetic and further humane it has made me at my best.