Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ode to a Cat

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


Phoebe is a kneading lump in my lap
Tail, swinging, keeping time
Built-in, furry drum-stick, beating on
Wooden desk drawers to the right of my
Cat-pants-clothed knee

In Phoebe, I see envy, loneliness, anxiety
Competitiveness with her sister for our affections,
But her sense of competition doesn't seem self-defeating.

Fickle Phoebe, you nibbled just one love-bite on my wrist yesterday
It felt like a cat-kiss. Was it? Pat thinks so.

Phoebe needs to teach me to be more like her.

Suffering's Payoff

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

Safety Against Unexpected Disappointment

When did my fetish for suffering begin? Up until recently, I wanted to rid myself of self-defeating competitiveness, which is perfectionism's conjoined twin and jealousy's breath...until I figured out the umbrella-/macro-problem: suffering...from an unhealthy sense of competition, from anxiety, from loneliness; all of these maladies have my suffering from them in common.

Loneliness? Yes. I've written here before that I'm a lonely soul -- probably, that's like calling oneself a klutz, i.e., a self-fulfilling prophecy, and yet I do feel lonely routinely, no matter how beloved I am by Pat and the rest of my family and friends. And my loneliness fuels my art.

Anxiety? I find it the most comfortable, most natural state. The moment I lose it, I fear something really terrible will happen.

Being overly-competitive/-comparative, and then envious? Routinely. For example, on Grove and Watchung in Montclair, coming in either direction, I like to be the first car in the line of however many of us are waiting for the light to change, sometimes by practically any means necessary.

Reading these descriptions of the associated challenges of my suffering, I see the payoff: I'm not necessarily suffering from them...except when it comes to envy....

How can I channel envy? What can I do about it in the present? How can envy be an agent for good instead of disappointment? By being absent. More prayers.

Marveling at Human Talent

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

Mostly Others'

Rolling past the Bakery counter at ShopRite tonight, the intricate designs that topped a number of the cakes and pastries impressed me; a human being or more than one did that, I registered, gazing at the glass case. Who knew that the frosting-incarnations of Sesame Street muppets could look so realistic, bursting from cupcake-tops?

Two nights ago, I was talking with a local friend who's mom is dying, telling her about the fun time I was having with my mom during my mom's weekend visit -- how we went to shul together on Friday night; met some friends of mine, including her, on Saturday morning; went to NYC for the afternoon, to a memorable art exhibit of the Bruke group of German Expressionists and saw some Klimts on another floor for good measure; how my mom found the best book in the museum giftshop, *Klimt's Cat;* how we came home and read it, and pieces of other books; and then watched a British mystery on PBS; and then on Sunday, how we went to the three generations of Wyeths show at the Montclair Art Museum prior to driving to Sarah Lawrence College to hear a high school friend read an excerpt of her memoir at the associated literary-journal-debut party.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Don't be jealous," I said tactlessly to my friend whose mother can hardly talk anymore and is bed-ridden.

"I'm not. I'm happy for you," she said.

Writing this, I'm reminded of a prior blog entry because if the roles had been reversed, I'd have been happy for my friend and in parallel wildly wistful, and giantly jealous of her. I was so envious of my friend who did the reading, since both of her parents attended and looked healthy and were visibly many years younger than my mom.

Envy is creativity-poison. Jealousy is the hallway to madness.

Why focus on it, rather than relishing and retelling all of the fun my mother and I had? What's the payoff? I think I'll spend a different blog-entry on that. Meanwhile, more purely and painlessly, I want to be able to marvel at other people's talent for writing and living. That's my prayer, God.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


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

Reprinted from My Facebook Profile Note

A high school friend invited me to post my answers to these questions:

1) What author do you own the most books by?
It's a tie among Amos Oz, E. Lynn Harris and A.M. Homes.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I think I have two copies of *The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay*

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Flannery O'Connor's Hulga in "Good Country People."

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
*A Wrinkle in Time*

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Reading it now, I have a feeling: Jonathan Lethem's *Motherless Brooklyn*

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
James Stephens' *The Crock of Gold*.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Alison Bechdel for *Fun Home*

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
*Hey, Dollface!* by Deborah Hautzig

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
*I and Thou* by Martin Buber

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
It was a daydream; I was reading *Orlando* during a really foggy string of days during college and I affiliated with the protagonist, unnervingly so

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
All of E. Lynn Harris', but they're so much fun.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
*Night* by Elie Wiesel.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
Does seeing "Romeo & Juliet" in modern-dress during the Disco era count?

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

18) Roth or Updike?

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Margaret Cho.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Isaac Bashevis Singer.

21) Austen or Eliot?
Dorothy Parker.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Most of the Classics.

23) What is your favorite novel?
*A Confederacy of Dunces*

24) Play?
"'night, Mother"

25) Poem?
Anything by Adrienne Rich or Sharon Olds or Susannah Sheffer

26) Essay?
A number of my own, on my blog.

27) Short story?
Any by Flannery O'Connor, but especially "Good Country People"

28) Work of nonfiction?
*Truth & Beauty: A Friendship*

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Flannery O'Connor

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
It's not for me to judge.

31) What is your desert island book?
*Babyji* and my synagogue's siddur

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Louis Begley's book on Kafka along with *Motherless Brooklyn,* depending on my mood.

On the Way to My Blog

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

I Saw This

Our home PC has CNN as its default home page and the title of the news item caught my eye: "'Sisterly love' in the air? Women are leaving husbands and boyfriends for other women." It's so delicious to hear openly-lesbian actor, Cherry Jones, as "Madam President" in the background as I write about this, as a star of the TV show, "24," which Pat's watching. Lesbians are everywhere these days. I'm so glad that we're more visible now than ever before.

The article reminded me of an observation I made while living in Israel at 20: During a Shabbat dinner at a hospitable, ultra-Orthodox family's home, I asked a few questions on why Jewish Law was the way it was, or on why the rituals and traditions were as they were, and every time, the husband answered along the lines of God's will while the wife tried to consider the questions and respond thoughtfully.

This CNN/ article and an earlier one I saw in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine some months ago, referred to women's sexual fluidity. I'm pretty sure the same scholar, Lisa Diamond, was quoted in both articles, and that both were referring to the same study around what women found arousing vs. what men did.

In both articles, I read that men were aroused only by the gender associated with their sexual orientation while women didn't discriminate. I think it was the use of the word, "rigid" in relation to men in the article that reminded me of the experience I had at that Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem.

No doubt, there are women who are rigid and men who are fluid and I wonder why this sort of research is being conducted, and to what end.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Poem

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

Fraternal Twins from Different Mothers

Two high-school girls mistaken for each other routinely
One, a Scandinavian-American diver
The other, a Jewish[-Russian]-American disco roller-skater
One, super-private, yet who laughed easily
The other, super-public, yet who used her wit to hide behind

Could they have imagined a reunion
More than a quarter of a century later
Where the super-private one would give a reading
So revealing that a whole roomful of souls would be represented?

Could they have imagined their mothers meeting
For the first time during the former girls' middle-age
And the empathy that each mother would feel for the other?

Two middle-aged, high-school girls, marveling at each other's gift:
A gorgeous memoir and wildly-various tulips from a grownup garden.

What a mirror of each other they turned out, after all, to be.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shul as Spa Treatment

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

Enjoying a Spiritual Soak

Shul hit the spot last night. Pat's on her annual trip to Tennessee for several days of golf with buddies from her Northern Illinois University colleagues' golf team, since a couple of them retired there. I'm famous for not liking to stay in the house alone, i.e., without other people, not including cats, and so my mom's here.

"Like most women, I decided who my mother was long ago, sometime during childhood," Ruth Reichl said in an interview on NPR the other day.

My mom went with me to services last night and I was reminded of that quote as we sang "Oseh Shalom" together; growing up, no matter how chaotic the week/morning/moments prior to sitting in the pew had been, we got into such a cheerful, peaceful mood whenever we sang that piece of the liturgy. Same effect last night. I was eight again, and still shorter than my then-totally-able-bodied, Girardo-frosted-hair mom.

Driving home, I thought about Ruth Reichl's statement and how through writing a memoir about her mother, her decision about who her mother was broadened. This weekend, with just the two of us, I want to be open to a further expansion of the definition I have of my mother.

Last night was just the start, and a welcome way to begin: For particular parts of the liturgy, I stood with the congregation and my mother sat -- unable to stand anymore for any sustained length of time; we held hands, though, and she began swinging them. I didn't even need to close my eyes; we were six and 46 again, skipping together down any of my hometown's streets.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thank God..

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

I'm Not a Forgotten Woman

Pat and I are watching a documentary, "The Forgotten Woman," which is more sad than "Water" because it's the true version, about the widows in Vrindavan. I've gotta watch cheerier programs. Before this, we watched the latest episode of "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," and that episode had some especially poignant scenes.

Let's put it this way: I can't keep absorbing all this sadness without also blogging...and without getting more sleep. Yesterday, I went to my mom's for dinner on the way back from work (it's not really on the way, but...) and felt more sadness. The top step in front of her house had come off the day before when our 16-year-old nephew Zach stepped on it and the slab of slate sat off to the side.

One July, I remember sitting on that slate-slab with my oldest sister, Deb, staring up at the tulip tree in our front yard. Already, the stone was warm from the summer-morning sun. Who knew that less than a decade later, my dad (z"l) would be dead from bile-duct cancer? The problem, too, is that I'm on the last few pages of Joan Didion's *The Year of Magical Thinking*. She wrote that grieving is passive while mourning is active.

"If this is what God had in mind for women," I just heard a woman say in Hindi, with subtitles, "He shouldn't have created them." She's crying. Thank God, I was able to live peacefully with Pat in India.

Tomorrow, I will be more hopeful.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cat Company

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

Pat's with David & Gerard

The girls are keeping me company on and off -- they swirl in and out of the room as I sit here, wishing for either of them to hop on my lap. Now, they're gone again. Am I being punished for getting home later than usual tonight?

Tonight, I'm finally pausing to try to read through the small book of my grandfather's Hebrew poetry that my aunt gave me when I lived in Jerusalem at 20. It contains 28 poems and I can understand only one stanza of the fourth one: "Chedri ("My Room"):"

Kal ha'adam li zar
Kal ha'olam li tzar
Oolam tov li m'od
B'toch chedri ha'kar

Every person is a stranger to me
All the world is sorrowful to me
But it's very good for me
In my cold room.

Not too cheery! I never knew my grandfather. Now, I get to know him a little through the pieces of his poetry that I can make out.

Pat's home and the kitties are also commanding my attention!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RIP, Avigdor Kara

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

He Was Buried in Prague in 1439

Prague was the center of Jewish life in the 16th century, I'm learning from "House of Life...," a documentary on PBS.

Wild to see this show right after reading an article on my favorite Israeli writer. Amos Oz is turning 70 while Avigdor Kara, z"l, the first Jew to be buried in the Prague Jewish cemetary, has been dead for more than 500 years.

They're talking about the Hevra Kadisha now, and then about a half-naked woman carved into the stone of a grave of a Jewish woman; the tour guide speculates that maybe it was because she was childless. "Each stone is like the page of a book," says another guide, and I like that idea -- of gravestones as life-stories.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shalom Bayit II

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

"Peace in the Home II"

Just like I watched "The Bank Job" with Pat a few weeks ago for the sake of shalom bayit (peace in the home), I'm watching "Miller's Crossing" with Pat now.

Spoiler Alert: The only good part is John Turturro, but he's being gotten rid of, perhaps, in this scene -- the one compelling one of the movie so far.

Really, I don't mind *what* we're watching because I'm spent from writing a paper for eight hours yesterday and today. It's done now. One little one and one big one to go. After I finished this one, I invited Pat to go for a walk. It was so, so windy out, but sunny enough for sunglasses.

The wind kept blowing off the hood of my fake leopard-fur jacket, but it was worth it because we got to see grape hyacinths, forsythia, purple sheaths of hostas peeking out of the soil, weeping cherries, pink dogwoods, darling mini-daffodils -- "Remember the wood-chipper in 'Fargo?'" Pat asked while both of us were just grossed out by the latest scene in this God-forsaken film, which was also produced by the Coen Brothers.

How can nature be so gorgeous and its creatures so brutal?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Our Dayenu 2009

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

Dayenu (It Would Have Been Enough)

If Pat and I had found each other, but we had not sustained a nearly 17-year relationship so far, dayenu.

If we had found each other, and had sustained a nearly 17-year relationship to date, but had not had mothers who had remained healthy into their mid-80s so far, dayenu.

If our mothers had remained healthy into their mid-80s so far, but we had had no siblings, dayenu.

If we had had siblings, but had not been close with them and their families as adults, dayenu.

If we had had siblings and had been close with them and their families as adults, but not had friends we love, dayenu.

If we had had friends we love, but had felt we were not contributing to the world's positive progress, dayenu.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Be Careful What We Wish For?

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

Or Be More Ardent than Ever?

Desire is just a sexy term for hope, it has occurred to me. I'm still thinking about what we discussed in class recently, about how social media can increase opportunities for instant gratification and can diminish desire, and how desire is an engine of social change.

In my experience, social media are agents for positive social change. The shy and marginalized can become empowered, the privileged can share and writers can be redeemed, since much of social media rely on writing and reading, and responding with more writing and reading.

Replacing Historic Hopes with New Ones

In the movie, "Milk," Harvey Milk declared, "You've gotta give 'em hope!" In "Brokeback Mountain," I empathized above all with the heterosexual wife, and also felt awful for Dan White in "Milk." In both cases, I think it's because their hope disappeared...and yet, in each case, if society had been more inclusive of gay people to begin with, no drama would have been necessary.

What if social media made life equitable for gay, lesbian, bi and transpeople, and other historically-underrepresented groups by doing as I declared above -- by giving us unprecedented visibility? Would we lose our desire/hope for greater freedom? It seems like it would take some time to catch up with thousands of years of being so often relegated to the margins. I think it would be a good problem to face -- trying to figure out what's next after freedom.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No Absence of Desire

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

*Brave New World* or Not

"Special" and "desire" are relative and subjective terms. What makes something special? Must it be original? Or exciting? Or poignant? Or a catalyst for love and/or change?

What is desire? Many agree that it's wanting something or someone you don't yet have.

The reading I've been doing for school and the class-time discussions lately have been on how all of the social media we now access so easily contribute to the end of desire; after all, if we have instant gratification more so than ever due to it and other technology, then we have fewer desires, right?

The readings also have been talking about how scholarly work can be less special these days, as there's less time to sit and think due to all of the 24/7 access that scholars' sponsors, students and colleagues have to them. Eriksen's (2007) complaint is: "Academic books increasingly look like cut-and-paste collages with snippets of conference papers here and excerpts of journal articles there" ("Stacking and Continuity: On Temporal Regimes in Popular Culture," in *24/7: Time and Temporality in the Network Society,* Ed. R. Hassan & R. E. Purser, p. 156).

By contrast to the academic realm, Pat and I are walking to the corner of Grove and Alexander in our town, Montclair, this afternoon, and I tell her:

"All this stuff I'm reading makes Web 2.0 out to be the devil. It totally demonizes it. Yeah, I know that there's less impulse to be original and slowly thoughtful, but the upsides are at least even with if not more numerous than the downsides. I mean, what a boon for communicating with people from really far away -- don't you love that you've got all these people you're finding to play games with, from all over the world?"

"Yes --"

"And then for marginalized people, a voice and visibility like never before. Certainly, people in the majority with privilege can complain about the downsides, but they don't even see how helpful it is to people who've been shy at best and disenfranchised historically at worst. That makes sense, right?"

Pat smiles at me.

"Right?...Were you listening to anything I just said?"

"Uhh, I was thinking about Mafia Wars [a game Pat likes that she found on Facebook]."

The new media do seem dangerous in terms of how easy/facile/quick they make most everything; I mean, just last week, I was responding to a colleague's blog-entry on how he's begun writing out his blog-posts by hand, though he didn't see fit to explain why. I commented:

To me, it would have been most fascinating to learn your reasons for blogging initially on paper. My writing is more soulful when I hand-write compared with when I type, and yet I type-write my blog entries for efficiency’s sake…which sort of defeats the purpose of blogging, which, for me, is to parade my soul. If only sleep were unnecessary....

It's true that I'm haunted by how easy typing is, and so how much less engaged I fear my brain is while I'm writing electronically. That's my biggest complaint.

Otherwise, I do not think that social media removes desire through instant gratification, which was how it was characterized during class the other night. I was so taken aback that I didn't even formulate a defense in real-time, and really, it's not for me to have to defend it, but I do want to say my piece here, where I say whatever I want routinely:

Facebook and its ilk have not reduced desire in me. Finding people on whom I had crushes in high school did not take away the historical desire for them. In some ways, it fanned it. A less loaded, and more common, example is how the technology has enabled me to become acquainted with gay, lesbian, bi and transpeople (GLBT) around the world like I'd only been able to do via my behind-the-firewall network of GLBT colleagues at IBM prior.

How cool is it that marginalized people can find one another and feel less marginal and more empowered? What does any of this have to do with time and learning?

In my experience, time to find kindred spirits and also to learn about remote cultures is reduced while time to write something from which people can learn at least a little, also, is reduced. People might learn even more if the authors online, including me, spent longer in authoring the writing, but then, there's also value in unveiling thoughts as quickly as possible, so that *some*one might be inspired by them to do good sooner.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Time Cut Short

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

Marvin Gaye died today, some years ago. Shot by his father before Gaye Junior was 46, if I remember correctly. First song on the radio during my commute, his: "Sexual Healing." Driving home from Brewster and my colleague's husband's wake, Gaye's "Let's Get It On," immediately after leaving the funeral home.

Death and desire always go together with me. Someone beloved dies and I want to create life. At this point, writing is my alternative means of creating some form of life, i.e., bringing stories to life, along with sustaining lives that already exist, like that of the kitty, swishing the end of her tail as she rests everything other than her active purr in my lap.

"Sexual Healing," I've written here before, was the first song I heard, following the shivah period after the death of my father of blessed memory; a snippet of it played over the Stamford High P.A. system, to promote a dance that was happening the following weekend. I was the first to arrive for Civics and I cried, looking out the window at Sonia Liebowitz, arriving on her motorcycle in the middle of the day, her long, red hair hidden by a black helmet...till she took it off. I was so happy to hear music again, let alone a pop-song that I loved, and then it made me cry with desire, not necessarily for Sonia per se, but at large.

When my dad died, desire was the alternative to a complete shutdown of every emotion. I wanted to become pregnant, but was going about it all wrong....I guess I wanted to make new life to replace my father, but not really enough to disregard every bit of who I was then, i.e., a college-bound, as-secret-as-possible lesbian.

What if I had become pregnant at 17? My child(ren) would be out of college and even grad school probably now, if she, he or they had had the opportunity to go for higher education. I never did become pregnant, but it remains something I wish for, at least momentarily, whenever I am reminded of death.

Musical Mourning

"Let's Get It On" always moves me when I hear it, especially ever since the scene I witnessed around a decade ago at a saloon in the Adirondacks; I've written about it prior, too: Pat and I were at one of the earliest Adirondyke Weekends, which was organized by a friend, who retired from IBM, and her partner of 30+ years.

The song came on and another IBM friend, who's also since retired, and her girlfriend at the time, stopped the pool-game they were playing to go and dance languorously. I watched them abandon the game, dance beguilingly for the length of the song and then in slow-motion, return to resume their game, smiling at each other across the table.

My colleague's husband lay in a half-open casket as we toured the collage of his life in photos with my colleague. There he was as a young boy, standing by the couch on which a black kitty sat, ignoring him; as an even younger kid, next to a cow on a farm to which his parents took him every summer; in his sailor-uniform; at his wedding to my colleague; with his small grandson....And then stock-still, eyes shut, nearby, in the casket.

In its wood and glass box, the American flag reminded me of my dad's; both of the men had been in the Navy, though in different eras. I kissed my colleague's cheek, coming and going, and registered with another colleague on my way out that at 64, my widowed colleague's husband was only six years older than Pat; I drove home through a dangerous rain, blasting the radio to drown out any mournful thoughts as best I could, and to invite my desire in parallel.