Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Writing a Play

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

What Should Be Its Theme?

Pat and I were taking a vacation-walk and I told her that I was thinking of writing a play on Time for my class this upcoming semester, since the professor specified in the syllabus that we could do a creative project.

"Why not write about someone who's being held captive and who doesn't know if and when the release date is?"

"That's such a great idea because that has a conflict and people would want to see it, but what I was thinking of -- and would want to write about -- would have much less universal appeal, but still....I was thinking of writing about how long it takes one and one's family and friends to learn to accept one's sexual orientation when it differs from that of the mainstream."

As soon as I said all that, I recalled Pat, telling my mom yesterday that what I really ought to write are "...lesbian potboilers." Again, it's relatively big market...and not even slightly compelling to me as a writer. I don't read any sort of mysteries myself.

What I'd love to have the powerful talent to write is a poignant or provocative drama like Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother, or Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, or Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July, or Martin McDonough's Beauty Queen of Leenane, or Edward Albee's Zoo Story or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What a tall order! To go from not yet having written a play to aspiring to create something of these playwrights' caliber! Ugh, I'm a little embarrassed...but obviously not too embarrassed to wish for it in any case.

I need to read, and absorb, more of Robert Henri's The Art Spirit.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This is Funny...

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

Or Is It?

In an NYT article that I finally finished reading during this vacation, I learned about the new art scene in Tel Aviv, including a number of female artists.

The article stated, "...Israeli art has found its feet. Once given to a certain histrionic expressionism, it has suddenly acquired something else: a sense of humor."

Yael Bartana's "Kings of the Hill," I would agree, is pretty funny -- at least as much as I watched of it.

Sigalit Landau's "DeadSee," where the artist is floating naked, in profile, among a mass of watermelons atop the Dead Sea is startling and beautiful, if not funny...though it sounds funny, doesn't it?

If It's on YouTube, It Must Be Funny, Right?

Yesterday, I also caught up on an article from a back-issue of "Curve," which was a feature on lesbian comedians. (I almost wrote, "comediennes," but that sounds retro to me, like "Jewess." I am a Jew, not a Jewess.)

Here's the anti-climax: I spent a long time on YouTube between yesterday and today, checking out the humor of the women who were mentioned and for whom there were clips and wished they didn't swear so much, and that they made me laugh aloud more so. Someone had posted a bit by Suzanne Westenhoefer on Animals, which amused me, since we have two cats. And Bridget McManus was funny to me as well; she reminded me of Jennifer Saunders because she was pretty *and* funny.

Historically, Sandra Bernhard, Lea Delaria and Margaret Cho, who I see as more queer-friendly than queer herself, have always made me laugh the hardest, even as their material could be extra-raw.

Note: Added on New Year's Day, 2009: Jessica Halem, a comic I met when she directed the LCCP, also makes me smile broadly and nod my head and feel represented, i.e., what she's observing aloud -- that's so true; I just found Jessica on Twitter.

The comedian who made me laugh aloud more than any during my humor hunt of the past day was Anita Renfroe, an evangelical, suburban mom (with a husband). Her parody of Faith Hill's "Breathe" cracked me up.

Earlier this year, I first heard of Anita Renfroe in a Sunday "New York Times" magazine profile. There had to be a trial in one's life, I think, to enable one to be a great artist. It also didn't hurt to come from a geographically, if not sociologically, marginal place; according to the NYT profile, Anita Renfroe grew up in a small town in Texas and her dad left when she was two.

Israeli artist Sigalit Landau's statement in the other NYT article also made sense:
"When you are always at the center, you live in a valley," Landau said. She was talking about New York, where she studied at Cooper Union. "When you live on the periphery, you're on a mountain. It gives you perspective."

Friday, December 26, 2008


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

What to Do About an Unusual Abundance of It

This is so uncomfortable. Typically, I'm grousing to myself about how I wish I had more time. Today, being on vacation, I have all the time in the world and don't know what to do with myself.

I know that Pat and I will go swimming in 30 minutes, and I know we said we wanted to go to synagogue tonight, but I feel rebellious and like I don't want to swim. I want to walk. And I don't want to go to synagogue. I want to stay home and eat Chanukah party leftovers for dinner.

It is natural that I'm decompressing from the non-stop pace of big projects at work plus my part-time Masters program, and yet, I'm feeling guilty, like I'm frittering away precious time.

It's a little disorienting to have such an unstructured schedule. What is discipline? Should it apply during a vacation? Or would I do better to just let myself rest, be dormant, stay static, "veg out?"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quantum of Milk

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

Huge Emotions at the East Hanover AMC Theater

Well, there were some simmering emotions in the car on the way over, too. Because of Christmas-shopping or other traffic, we were 20 minutes late to see "Milk" yesterday afternoon. Pat hates traffic and hates being late.

Could we read our books till 4:50 pm, the next showing? Not in that video-game-blaring lobby. Let's see another movie instead, we agreed.

"Quantum of Solace," the newest James Bond film, was beginning in 10 minutes. Fine. We'll see that.

Half an hour or so into the movie -- or eight or so action scenes later -- it struck me that we could go to the 4:50 pm showing of "Milk" when this finished, which we did.

A Poem Inspired by an NYT Article on Jack Spicer and His Poetry

"Men at Their Best"

Attractive man
Unattractive men
Equally attractive

James Bond
Jack Spicer, Harvey Milk
All singular, heroic, lonely

Avenging deaths, protecting the free world
Protecting the marginalized or channeling loneliness
One survives, one drinks death, the third is served it, rather than Twinkies.

007 keeps chasing women, cars, boats, villains, and this time, a demon
The poet chased no one, but rather, was more chaste than he wished to be
Our gay MLK chased dignity.

Art is any restoration of dignity, as long as not by vengeful means
So many men, and any number of lesbians, want to be James Bond
Yet Jack Spicer and Harvey Milk were the artists.

Facebook is Crackish

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

...i.e., What I Imagine It Would Be Like to Be Crack-Addicted

Before I was active in Facebook, I had a nice thing going with this blog -- socializing one-way with an average of ~20 mystery-people every time I posted, since most of my blog-entries didn't provoke comments, and since at most, the site-meter told me only from which city they were visiting.

Something about that captured my imagination, and still does, and by contrast, I feel I've become dumbed down a bit by much as I am drawn to it. I have more than 350 Facebook friends, and they've become like Wacky Pack cards to me instead of the 3-D people I know in real-life. This comes from someone who aspires to enact Martin Buber's I-Thou, rather than I-It philosophy with people, and not to objectify them. When they are searchable names in Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any other social network, I must admit that they are objects to collect as much as they are people I care about in real-life.

How I Realized My Facebook Addiction

The Crack thought came to me last weekend, when I checked my Columbia Univ. e-mail in-box and was deeply disappointed to see that I had not even received an automated note from Facebook, e.g., the bogus ones on how " of your friends thinks you're a hottie," let alone real e-mail from any of my Facebook friends, or an opportunity to join an appealing cyberspace-based group or cause.

A relative and I talked about it, too, and she agreed that Facebook keeps pulling her back.

This morning, I had intended to wake up and blog about my back-to-back experience of "Quantum of Solace" and "Milk." And I hope I still will, but first, I told myself, I just wanted to spend "a moment" in Facebook, to warm up -- and knew I was fooling myself. The analogy is that it's like spending time, watching TV as a stimulus for writing -- not so stimulating in reality, but rather tranquilizing.

Perhaps I've hit a Facebook "bottom:" When we went to a holiday party at our friends recently, I found myself choosing what I'd wear, so that if I were "tagged" in any photos taken at the party, I would feel sufficiently stylish and not be embarrassed to see them on Facebook the next day. Imagine my anti-climax when no one took any pictures!

What Facebook Has Enabled

I was going to end it there, but then I recalled a recent experience that Facebook enabled, and about which I've gotta blog:

My mom and I are talking earlier this week, as we do nearly daily, and I do not recall why, but she mentions the older sister of a classmate from the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school I attended for eight years, from Grades 1-8. "She has a child and she's not married. Her aunt told me she's a lesbian."

As we're talking, I open Facebook and search on her relatively unusual name: Voila!

My mom and I hang up and I write to the girl, now woman, immediately, about how I was in her brother's class and how my mom told me that her aunt mentioned her lesbianism, and how it's so great to find a kindred spirit from that school finally....

Within record-time, I receive a response. I'm so excited to open the e-mail and it begins by telling me that she has to laugh and is interested in knowing which of her aunts thinks she's a lesbian because though she's not married, the partner she "...still seeks is a man."


And her brother, my classmate, she mentions, has just been visiting, and she'll have to tell him that she has heard from me.

Go Facebook!

So what is the moral of the story? In this case, Facebook did not enable a poignant, pleasant reunion, but rather re-opened a couple of salty wounds potentially -- hers at not yet having found the ideal partner and mine at having endured the Orthodox day school experience as a closeted little lesbian, who to this day, remains the only one I know of from the school.

The other moral is that my need for connection to others is no guarantee of a happy connection. I do think it definitely qualified as an I-Thou exchange ultimately, though.

And finally, I must acknowledge that Facebook did inspire my writing after all. This blog entry is the evidence.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quasi-scholarly Writing

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

Tucked in a Pocket

Since Pat's still watching her Packers go -- forgive me for saying that it's an unseasonably good game -- I'm inspired to link to the papers I've posted in Pocket Knowledge, the social archive of Teachers College. I hope they are visible beyond the Teachers College firewall.

The Success Is in the Action

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

...Not the Result

The affirmation in this entry's title and subtitle is something I try to tell myself whenever I do something brave that is a long-shot. Tonight, for the first time since I was in my early-twenties, I sent a query letter to a magazine, offering to submit an article for publication.

Here's the automated response I received, which nonetheless thrilled me:

Thank you for your submission to Curve magazine. Please note that it can take up to eight weeks for a response.

Diane Anderson-Minshall
editor in chief

Let's see what happens. I'm grateful to my writer-artist friend, Val, who pumped me up with courage earlier this evening. Little did she know that her encouragement would be applied so literally, so soon. Thanks, Val!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Blanket...

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

And a Cat Coverlet

Phoebe's eyes match my green sweater perfectly. She is draped on my lap like the snow's draped on the tree-branches outside my window.

When I see her little face looking up at me, as it has been doing these past several minutes, I understand motherhood a little bit.

"I'm going to have a son," a 15-year-old declared yesterday when I asked her whether she thought she might want to have children someday. "When I'm good and ready," she said, "Boys are less work than girls."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shall We Overcome?

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

We Shall...Someday

Like she said.

Thinking about Tracy's blog entry further, I wonder, Could there have been any generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that was as angry as the ACT UP bunch?

I'm not sure that this generation is angry as much as it has an unprecedented -- thank God -- sense of entitlement, to be treated as human, and as first-class citizens.

My least favorite form of self-expression is bitterness, and so I also want to add my pleasure at this mostly positive historical news. I wish my own homeland could have joined the list of 66, but again, I don't like to feel/be bitter....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing Virtual Classmates...

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


Tonight is the final session of the semester of MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology. It was way more like a Science course than I had bargained for and so it was probably the hardest course I've taken so far in my part-time Masters program, but I feel nostalgic already about it ending.

All semester, we met via Adobe Connect and never in person, which was truly strange, yet it had its virtues, e.g., one of our classmates, an animator from Los Angeles, was able to participate, since it was online, and she enriched my learning experience; I'd not have had her as a classmate, if it had been face-to-face.

Two of the 18 students and I had been in classes face-to-face prior, but the rest were just little square, animated heads to me the whole time, including the three classmates with whom I worked on a group project. One of the classmates with whom I had previously learned face-to-face wrote to say how odd the virtual experience was.

My response was, "The minus is not being able to see one another. The plus is being able to go get an orange from the kitchen and nobody knows!" It was also nice to be able to attend the first session from the B&B, where we were vacationing in Maine.

Another classmate, after the first or second session wrote to me in the chat space: "I like you. You're funny." I was startled and thrilled at the distance being eliminated with her quick expression of what she was thinking/feeling, but it proved too tough to launch and sustain a new, virtual friendship. We spoke about our learning and our experience of the class once by phone, but then let our busy-ness take over and never spoke again by phone.

It wasn't till today, for example, that I learned anything at all personal about any of my classmates, which, historically, happened inevitably when we were face-to-face in my experience.

Today, feeling a bit panicky about all of these people disappearing from my life at 8:30 pm tonight, I looked for whoever I could find on Facebook to "friend" them. I found just a couple, including one of my small group.

All semester, I had stereotyped her: She is Italian-American and teaches in a Catholic school of mostly Italian-American kids. When I looked at her info in Facebook, she had declared her religion as Bahai. What an interesting surprise!

And I wondered what surprised her, looking at my Facebook entry. I know she did look because she wrote on my "wall." At the start of the semester, I searched for my professor; he's got a Facebook profile and he readily accepted my friendship request, and so I had a personal sense of him during the semester...but I thought it would be presumptuous to try to connect with the pure strangers that were my classmates at the outset, and then I forgot to do so till today.

What does that mean about the learning experience? Usually, I relish becoming close with at least one of my classmates during a semester. And I did feel especially kindred with one of my classmates this time, too, but it was strictly around the group project we were working on...and that was neat, actually -- that it could be such a nearly purely academic friendship.

I enrolled in the course because the topic interested me, and also to gain empathy for our learners at work who we serve, increasingly virtually. And I did. Whereas they learn virtually for a matter of hours, over as many as several weeks, I learned online for an entire semester. I learned that I save ~US$30 on parking weekly, and gas to school; I learned that I could learn with anyone from anywhere; I learned that I missed the walking-out-of-class together-with-my-classmates-or-arriving-early time, when we learned personal things about one another and also got to debrief about especially interesting features of a particular session...which I think could probably be replicated a bit if it were set up consciously, or committed to by my classmates and me; and I learned that I can learn meaningfully and create substantial learning experience 100% virtually...and I haven't even shared what my group and I designed. I'll save it for another blog entry.

Here's one of the assigned papers I submitted:

MSTU 4083 Instructional Design of Educational Technology, Fall, 2008, D. Shaenfield; My Journaling Experience During this Course by Sarah Siegel

The “After each class” questions you asked us to use as the basis for our journaling were terrific….I did use them as the template for each journal entry and they helped me understand my feelings in relation to the course, which was excellent, since we were not face to face as a class; historically, in face-to-face settings, my feelings felt more obviously manifest and noticeable, and there, perhaps my classmates and professor offered a more visible mirror.

Even the fifth question, “What about the class this week surprised you the most?” always led me to respond in the realm of emotions and not about an intellectual epiphany; on October 15th, for example, I wrote, “Didn’t get scolded for length of presentation.” It surprised me that you did not criticize our group for that when you did for a much less egregious lack of time management during a previous presentation we delivered.

In answering the second question, “At what moment in the class this week did you feel most distanced from what was happening?” I wrote initially in my journal that online learning was more intense, since I could not rely on seeing body language of the professor or my classmates….

The course proved to be emotional for me for the whole semester – sometimes, more frustrating than gratifying during class-times, particularly when I experienced technical infelicities – my own and others’ – and often exhilarating when I was working with my small group, or reading a particularly interesting article or chapter on my own, such as Chapter 3 in Trends and Issues…, “The History of Instructional Design and Technology.” For example, just one of the many margin comments I made in that chapter was, “I don’t know why people don’t approach new media with a sense of adventure. Why is there such conservatism?” I wrote that on p. 23 despite that most of the page referred to the increase in usage of new media….
With my small group, when we decided to develop an online module on immigration for Challenge III, I responded in my journal with the answer to the first question, “At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?; I wrote that I was delighted that our own group represented such an interesting diversity of ancestral immigration experience, including one, who was in the process of deciding whether or not to immigrate to the United States and one whose ancestors have been here since the American Revolution.

On the September 10th, you asked us to consider for the following class: “What does it mean to participate in an online course?” I reflected on that question all semester. I wished I had done more written reflection on it. This was the first course that included a journal, where I did not feel compelled to reflect prolifically. Was it being given a template of questions to answer that made me less inspired than when I had free reign to write about whatever struck me?

Did participating in an online course cause me to feel less driven to write about my experience of the class than I did when I met with my professor and classmates face to face? Historically, when I learned face-to-face, there was something delicious about considering further what went on in the classroom, and our readings, and keeping a journal on all of it. If I had been asked to predict my drive to reflect in my journal during this course at the start of it, I would have predicted being at least as driven to write what I was thinking, if not more so, since I did not have the extra stimulation of being face-to-face with everyone.

Paradoxically, I was less driven and more dutiful with answering what I was asked, but not venturing much in my responses…though I did go off-script to reflect in my journal on another question that one of my classmates asked aloud early on: “What are we as individuals looking to learn from this class?”

My journal responded: “Hoping to gain the confidence to believe in myself as having the capacity to be an instructional designer. I don’t really want to learn models of instruction even as I know, rationally, that understanding the theory behind the design is key to becoming a credible and good designer. Rather, I just want to design and design and design. I want the majority of the course to be experiential.”
Perhaps partially egged on by my own journal entry, during the course of this course, I took the initiative to design a module on Work-life integration for work nearly fearlessly, including a make-your-own podcast as one of its features. I had never before designed a module solo. I had co-designed a face-to-face one, and had revised a face-to-face one.

The module I designed was 90 minutes in length, and face-to-face, rather than online, but I did design it, so that they produced a public artifact, a legacy. It took me 17 hours over a Saturday and Sunday and when it was complete, I sent it to my favorite ORLD professor for her critique and to our chief designer at work, and both thought it was good. Had I not done all of the reading I did for this course, and all of the participating in class, I doubt I would have been so bold as to have even tried to create it, let alone to ask for feedback on it. And so the course did give me what I sought; it simply took the further reflection of writing this paper to see it.

It was also interesting to me that my favorite question to answer about each reading was, “4. What is your favorite sentence from the reading? Why?” because it tended to validate my emerging philosophy of instructional design beyond the other questions, for example, in The Cambridge Handbook…, Chapter 15, “The Knowledge Integration Perspective on Learning and Instruction,” my favorite sentence was, “Results from studies…consistently show the value of requiring students to generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258) because, as I wrote in my journal, “It makes the case for facilitation, rather than just teaching!”

Always, I have preferred Teachers College courses that have included a journal to those that have not. This was the first time I was required to answer specific questions and through reflection in this paper, I recognized the value of them even as they cramped my typical style a bit. Probably, they guaranteed further/more visible learning than simply a free-style journal because they encouraged me to “…generate connections among ideas rather than only reading or recognizing ideas” (Linn, 2006, p. 258).


Brookfield, S.D. (2004). Chapter 17, Critical Thinking Techniques. In Galbraith, M.W. (Ed.), Adult Learning Methods: A Guide for Effective Instruction (3rd ed.) (pp. 341-360). Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Reiser, R.A., & Dempsey, J.V. (Eds.) (2007). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Sawyer, R.K. (Ed.) (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ignoring Today's Inspirational Message...

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

Every morning, I read an inspirational message and today's was about not peering too far into the future. Oh, well....

Before I jump into working on my last big paper of the semester, I want to indulge in cataloging some of the fun things I hope to do for the upcoming break between this semester and next -- December 23rd-January 22nd:

  • Taking our niece Zoe to a Broadway play - Done
  • Going to our friends', Fred's and Geoff's, holiday party - Done
  • Swimming at least three times a week, if not five or six, including three steam-blasts in the steam room afterward - Done
  • Choosing and downloading my Chanukah gift of many iTunes - Done
  • Welcoming Pat's adopted Tasmanian Devil into our home, or at least the toy-version, which is her most-wished for Chanukah present - Done
  • Seeing my childhood friend Sarah, just for fun; it has been since Rosh Hashanah! - Done
  • Going to synagogue more often; it always lifts me, and we're too often too tired to get to the city on Friday nights after a long week
  • Seeing "Milk;" "Frost-Nixon;" "Slumdog Millionaire" - Saw "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • Catching up on all the magazine articles I started that have waited in a stack patiently on my nightstand, and that are knocked off by Toonces nearly every dawn as she seeks our attention - Done
  • Finishing Watchmen and Doris Lessing's cats book, and reading Three Cups of Tea and The Zookeeper's Wife - Read Doris Lessing's and Watchmen and opted not to read the other two at this point
  • Figuring out a writing project for fun -- maybe more blogging, maybe a magazine article, maybe the start of a book(!) - Sent a query letter to a magazine for an article I could write
  • Seeing the Calder exhibit at the Whitney - Doing soon
  • Doing some more drawing - Done.

That was a fun catalog to create and now, back to the present, which isn't so bad either:

I've got a purring cat curled on my lap; am wearing my favorite, softest, most comfortable sweater for cold weather; already have read the interesting parts of the Sunday "New York Times," including the Modern Love article and the front-page story on the "first friends" of the Obamas, and how they hope and plan to keep their friendships active once Barak Obama becomes president; and now, I get to finish showing off what I gleaned from what I read all semester in six-eight pages, three of which I wrote last night; and then I get to work on refining a set of FAQs further for work that are going to be appreciated by their audience; and in-between, I probably get to talk to family or a friend or two by phone...and maybe, I will get myself out for a swim on this sunny, chilly day -- a swim indoors.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God is Odd

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

"sad news"

Just because the subject line of her e-mail was in lower-case did not mean it would be less tragic.

Ancient History Made Vivid by Our Contact

Her mother, in the end, liked me better than she did. Twenty-one years ago, both of us had earned a degree from the University of Michigan, both of us loved reading fiction and both of us were lesbians. I've written before, if not here, that that was the extent of what we had in common. And yet we were a couple for two years and nine months, and lived together for most of that time.

We met while she was earning a Masters in English and I was in my senior year of undergrad. Toward the end of our first date, I kissed her at every red light as she drove me back to my Ann Arbor co-op; I was ecstatic at meeting an appealing woman with a beautiful brain. She was happy, I guess, to find someone presentable to bring home.

Thanksgiving in a Foreign Land

She did bring me home for Thanksgiving our first year together...only then, I was just her friend from Connecticut, who didn't fly home for the holiday. We hopped into her unassuming little, red Renault hatch-back and headed toward Detroit.

Approaching her family's Great Gatsby/1920s Grosse Pointe mansion on the water, I told myself to act cool. There was a golden, glowing Christmas tree in the center window, above the front door, or at least that's my memory.

Suddenly, I was in a foreign country. Her grand, yet similarly petite, welcoming mother swept me into her home and I just smiled at the warm, elegant, tasteful, comfortable atmosphere that seemed like the inanimate version of her mom -- and which so differed from the over-crowded, art-stuffed, hectic '60s split-level, where I grew up.

Her daughter was my girlfriend and instantly, I needed to be comfortable with an entire upper-class, Midwestern family...which wasn't large. She had a mother, father and brother, who was just a year younger than she -- my age. Both of the kids had gone to Princeton undergrad and University Liggett School before that. Her brother went on to law school and passed the California Bar before opting to pursue a different career. He was golden, could do anything he wanted, and yet never acted entitled.

Four years prior to my even being able to imagine this significant visit, my father had died, and my mother was just about making do. I had had to work while I studied, needed scholarships, and had come from a home that had never featured a Christmas tree. (Maybe this was part of what my favorite high school teacher, Mr. McWilliams, was referring to when he told me I ought to go to the Midwest for college, rather than staying east, to "...expand your horizons." Certainly, being welcomed into my former girlfriend's family was a wholly new horizon.)

Encouraging Kindness

My former girlfriend's mother and father were instantly lovely to me....Of course, initially, she didn't tell them that we were a couple. Her brother had come out when they were in high school and she spent undergrad, like I did much of the time, trying to, "beat it." I was just barely beginning to be openly-lesbian myself, so it was all right by me. Of course, I think that if they hadn't yet figured us out explicitly, they could tell I was someone special to her, and that's how they treated me.

Her father was quiet by nature, but almost every time he spoke, he said something that made me laugh aloud. My dad had been funny, too. It was a pleasure to be made to laugh in their palace -- and by the king no less.

Royal Family, Royal Treatment

When we went to bed that night, I felt like I was dreaming before even closing my eyes. What an exquisite world. Who knew I had attracted royalty? She became beloved to me then for being so, so privileged, and yet so...regular.

Of course, her brain was extraordinary, but she couldn't help that. And so was her brother's. They were a fun pair, so close in age, unlike my relatively much older sisters and me. They were extra-close in their love of fiction, in their unusually excellent athleticism (varsity tennis, squash), in their love of their alma maters and of pop-culture, and through their attraction to their own gender.

My former girlfriend came out to her parents over Christmas, without me there, and only after leaving the dinner table in tears over some gay-baiting remark by a guest, if I remember the story correctly. She told me that her mother followed her up to her room then and asked, "Is there something you want to tell me?"

From then on, her parents were even lovelier to me, which I've never stopped marveling at, since they were the most deeply religious people I had ever met, other than the rabbis who were my teachers at the Modern Orthodox day school I attended, growing up.

It wasn't the long-suffering sort of hospitality either. They were genuinely loving and inclusive. Purely lovely. I guess they were *truly* religious. They celebrated my graduation with my family that spring.

My Debut

That's how I came out to my mother explicitly finally. And my sisters. I wrote all of them letters, stating that my girlfriend's parents and girlfriend were going to be included in my graduation party and that if they didn't accept my lesbianism, they shouldn't bother coming to my graduation. All of them came. How daring I was! I had spent most of my life, fearing their rejection of me if they knew, but being treated so well by anyone's family, I guess, had emboldened me.

My former girlfriend and I served as each other's debutante date in the scheme of our lives, I guess, and it was an essential, yet relatively temporary relationship. Almost three years after the graduation celebration, I knew it was over between us.

"Baghdad Cafe," a film all about the virtue of change, kept me company twice in a row while my former girlfriend was out playing Chicago recreational softball with the woman who has been her partner ever since our breakup, I believe. After listening to the lyrics on the movie's soundtrack, about "...being in a little cafe in the middle of nowhere," but which was in any case, "...someplace better than where you'd been," I knew that ultimately, change would be good, and that I could not avoid it any longer.

Within a few weeks, I had moved into an efficiency some blocks west of where we had lived together -- my "little cafe in the middle of nowhere." Then I bought a Siamese fighting fish in a tiny glass bowl for companionship and began my years of serial dating pre-Pat.

Bridging Ancient History to Current Events

My former girlfriend's mother seemed stricken by our breakup; she said to me: "But you can't just end a marriage," using the only frame of reference she had. As we had our final conversation by phone, I shook my head, so sorry that I'd have to lose my former girlfriend's family in the bargain.

For probably 15 years, my former girlfriend and I lost touch. When online social networking dawned, I found her again and made contact. She had done well. A few years ago, her book was published by an elite university press. She had become a professor at a giant university.

And my blog, and online professional profile told much of my story positively, too. All's well that ends well...except it isn't all ending well, unfortunately:

Her Note's Subject Line Read, "sad news"

This fall, my former girlfriend's father died of natural causes at 79; her parents had been married for 45 years. When I learned of their longevity in his obituary, I was jealous for my mother, who had lost my father when they were just 56. My jealousy was curtailed by the next announcement: Five weeks later, my former girlfriend's brother took his own life. No one had expected it, including his partner.

My former girlfriend's brother and I had not been in touch since the breakup and I simply thought of him sweetly every once in awhile. Weirdly, around the time of his death, I was hunting for him within LinkedIn and wasn't even sure why -- too common a name, unfortunately.

After his passing, I tried googling him and was regretful that I hadn't done so in the first place, as his profiles showed up right away. How gorgeous he was, even 20+ years later. What made someone end his or her own life? A chemical imbalance? Private pain that was impossible to express? An accident?

When I learned the news, I felt closer to my former girlfriend than I might have even felt during our relationship. With age came empathy; I had almost lost one of my sisters to breast cancer a few years ago -- she's cancer-free now, thank God -- and had dreaded the thought of being down a sibling. And this was her only sibling.

Some days later, it's her mother I wish I could comfort.

Maybe We Were Meant to Be Sisters Instead

I want to tell her mother that when my father died, the mother of a former best friend came to my father's shivah. I wrote her a note afterward, suggesting that since she had been like an extra mother to me when her daughter and I were friends from three to eight, it was almost as if I still had two parents left.

The offer I want to make to my former girlfriend's mother is this:

Let's agree to no obligation for either of us, but since you were like a loving parent to me in the early time of my being openly lesbian, I'd like to offer to be your child in addition to my mother's if you like; your son and I had the same major in college and both had the same profession for some years, both were around the same age. Again, no obligation, but the offer's open. That's what I'd like to say.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gray Day, Bright Mood

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

Hope is Hatching

We woke up to snow-dust and trout-feast for our kitties. They must be fed first thing. Toonces began her heavy-pawed march over our prone bodies unusually early today, at 5 am, but we made her wait till 7, no matter that she batted items off our night-tables and onto the floor, trying to get our attention.

Toonces got it, but our dreams won, and so we dreamt between head-butts and purrs in our ears -- from the cat, not from each other.

People as Packages

Last night, Pat and I watched a documentary on Stephen Wiltshire, the visually artistic, autistic savant and then I also finally finished the Amos Oz short story I'd been reading in "The New Yorker." Both reminded me of compensations and deficits from God.

In the short story, the protagonist had a deficit; everyone saw him as Mr. Affability, but his wife was unhappy with him: "A few weeks ago, when they were fighting, Nava had said that his kindness was like a mask, and under the mask: Siberia."

In the documentary, Stephen Wiltshire had grown up profoundly autistic, but he was a remarkable and highly-successful artist, particularly of cityscapes, from memory. Our friend who died recently, and whose Memorial service we participated in a couple of days ago also was compensated: While he had a sadness about him, he had among the quickest senses of humor of anyone I'd ever known.

Something about my recognizing the deficits and compensations of others, even fictional others, is giving me hope today. It reminds me that I'm not alone in my good qualities and less good ones. Each of us is a package.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Unmuting Myself

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

How Can I Share What I'm Feeling?...How Can I Not?

"I must be the only Irish Jew in the world now," said my partner Pat, eulogizing our friend at his Memorial service at the Manhattan JCC yesterday. I cried then and now, as it seemed like a prelude to Pat's funeral some day -- it's my hope that it's many, many, many years in the future, and that, selfishly, I will already be dead and won't have to witness the occasion.

Both of them were funny, not heterosexual, Irish, Midwestern and Jewish converts. All of us met at Or Chadash in Chicago, back when name badges had just our first names and the first initial of our last names by default, in case we weren't public about our sexual orientation.

When I am forced to acknowledge death, I want life. God forgive me for totally watching the vivacious former employee of our friend over the shoulder of our friend's brother as he shared his grief with us. Earlier, she told me that our friend had been her boss for five years, and had been the best one she had ever had.

Later in the reception afterward, as his brother spoke of necessarily flying back to his brother's home city (no longer Manhattan) to retrieve his brother's stuff, she was a fresh vision of life out of the corner of my eye: tall, slim, black-haired, blue-eyed, features too youthful and too perfect to have been created surgically, all in black, except for the unclothed portion, where a long necklace could have lay. She had a ring on her left finger and so did the guy for whom she kept twirling her hair in her fingers. He had the guy-version of her build and strikingly handsome looks.

I never learned his connection to our friend, but smiled at the irony that two, apparently heterosexual people were flirting energetically at our gay friend's Memorial service. Or maybe he was gay, but was feeling like I was:

When will my pregnancy urge in response to death ever stop? I wanted to be either of the pair who were flirting -- young enough to become pregnant, or virile enough to impregnate. I wanted to escape our friend's gone-ness. I wanted to escape my worries of Pat's potential absence from my life someday through death. I wanted to be gone from the room of mourners and be busy, creating life.

Monday, December 1, 2008


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

Perfectionism's Necessary Counter-Balance

Some years ago, I was complaining to a friend at how upset I was that I didn't achieve something or another -- genuinely, I cannot remember about what I was grousing per se. I do recall her response, though:

"Sarah, you are not perfect...very nearly, but not."

I laughed, but I'm reminded of the exchange tonight.

This afternoon, I visited one of my favorite professors. I met with her, so that she could critique a paper of mine from last year. From a year ago.

"I haven't seen you since the Holiday Party," she began.

"Right. I'm sorry that I disappeared. It was babyish, but you handed me my paper at the party and I was so ashamed that you didn't love it [when I peeked at it while walking out of the building and while stopped at traffic lights on my way home] that I couldn't contact you afterward. I was too embarrassed."

"Well, I felt rejected when I didn't hear from you, and am glad to see you now."

"No, no, no. It was all my problem. I was just chagrined. Sorry to have been such a baby."

"I'm fond of you, so I'm glad you're back now."

I had brought the paper with me, so that we could go through it together and I had a giant lump in my throat the whole time, which transformed into tears as we talked.

"Look, you were so driven when you were in my class your first semester that I thought you were interested in the doctoral program here, and so I read it with an eye toward that. It didn't have an academic writing style."

"It's so ironic. I just came here from the information session on Kappa Delta Pi. I always want to do well, and be recognized for it, but...I don't really enjoy writing academically."

"I don't either. It's not creative."

"But you do it."

"Not very much. Mostly, I work with doctoral students on their writing."

"Well, I had such hopes for this paper when I wrote it. I wanted to be a big-shot and get it published."

"You still could. It wouldn't be such a stretch for you to do academic writing...if you wanted to do it."

"That's the thing. Half-way through this program now, I feel a bit lost. I keep thinking there's gotta be *some* scheme I can use to become published and I guess my latest idea was to get published via my work in grad school."

"Now that Obama has been elected, it's probably is fresh again. You could publish it if you wanted to. I mean, if you want to teach anyone, it's probably a good idea to publish."

"See, that's it. I enrolled in Teachers College because my sister had breast cancer, and I was afraid she wouldn't survive, and I thought, someone's gotta carry on where she left off."

"Is your sister an academic?"

"She was the principal of Brooklyn International High School, and has degrees from here and Bank Street College."


"Well, she survived, and then my mother had breast cancer and she survived, and meanwhile, I'm only half-way through this program and it's taking forever, since I'm taking only three credits a semester while working full-time."

"So it sounds like the doctoral program's not something you're still entertaining."

"No, I guess not."

"May I get that? It's my daughter." My professor's cell phone was ringing.

"Of course."

"Honey, I'm at school. May I call you back?"

I watched my professor and thought: I can't even create a child *or* an article, and she has done both!

"Sorry about that. My kids never call unless it's something bad, but she just said that she'd call my husband."

It was 28 minutes into the 30 I had scheduled with her and my sails were airless. "Well, I really appreciate your time and help, and again, I'm sorry that I was such a baby. [And then through tears:] I'm sorry to need this, too, but do you even still think I'm smart?"

"I don't think it. I *know* it."

"Thank you. On my way out, I want to tell you: Sometimes I feel like a visionary, but like people don't always want to hear my vision. Sometimes, I feel like I can scare people." (This had nothing to do with the paper. I don't know why my ego kicked in then, but probably it was meant to be a way to buoy myself.)

"Think about Obama. Nobody is that restrained. Nobody. And yet he is able to not scare people, and he got elected. People can hear his message."

"That's a bonus point. You're right. He's a good role model." I wanted to die more than ever, hearing that, regardless that it was meant to be constructive.

"So your mother and sister are well now?" she asked as my hand reached for her office-door-knob.

"Yes, thank God."

"And your kids, and you?"

She looked away. Someone she loved was "...having inconclusive tests."

I felt even worse. Here I was, whining about my crummy, little paper, which when put in a life and death perspective, didn't feel so big. And yet it did, and still does.

"I will pray for [the person's] restored health because often, like my mother and sister, people turn out fine."

"Yes, they do," she said.

I smiled wanly and thanked her again as I shut the door.