Sunday, May 31, 2009

Love or...

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


Warning: Most likely, I will be seeing everything through the lens of intercultural communications for the next several weeks -- the golf-cart ride I took during a scramble-round of nine holes of golf yesterday near Lake George, by the Hudson River:

My cart-mate, previously a stranger -- and that's how the scramble's set up by design annually -- was apparently not very curious, and not into small-talk compared with me. We met each other's partners for a moment before the four of us split into three different teams. She and I were on Team #7, and so we started on the seventh hole:

On the way to Hole #7: Me: "Where are you from?"

Cart-mate: "Brooklyn."

Me: "My sister and her family live in Brooklyn."

Cart-mate: "Where?"

I tell her and ask where she lives and she gives me the cross-streets.

On the way to Hole #8: "My sister's a Brooklyn-bigot. She feels that there's nowhere else like it."

Cart-mate: "It's true that it's like living in a suburb while still being in the city, with parks and pools and ice-rinks and museums, you don't really need to go anywhere else."

On the way to Hole #9: Why isn't she asking me where I'm from? I'm wondering. I pause for a moment, hoping she'll ask me a question. None is forthcoming. I can't help myself; I must fill the silence: "There's a great writer, who wrote a novel I love, which takes place in Brooklyn, *The Fortress of Solitude*. Jonathan Lethem. Have you read it?"

Cart-mate: "No."

Me: "Well, probably, you wouldn't get all of the references from before your time, like to Crazy Eddie's...."

Cart-mate: "I remember those commercials from when I was really young. They're making a movie about Crazy Eddie, about how it fell apart. And the corruption."

Me: "Please tell me he wasn't also Jewish, like Madoff."

Cart-mate: "Yes, he was."

We hit our drives and I realize that I haven't given my cart-mate context for why I cared if he was Jewish or not.

On the way down the green: "I should have mentioned that I'm Jewish and I just hate it whenever any of my people do anything wrong. I know there can be bad people everywhere, but...I also hate it when a lesbian does something bad."

Cart-mate: "Yeah, my mother says she likes Ellen [DeGeneres] better than Rosie [O'Donnell]. My girlfriend's Jewish."

Me: "How did you meet your girlfriend?"

In a sentence or two, she tells me about the venue where they met 12 years ago, and I'm waiting for her to ask me how I met my partner. Nothing.

Me: "What's your background? Are you Italian? Irish? [She looked Italian, but my sister Deb once asked me, "How come it seems that most [U.S.] lesbians are either Jewish or Irish Catholic?" and so, agreeing with my sister's general observation from my own experience, too, I took a guess.]

Cart-mate: "I'm half-Columbian and half-Serbian. Talk about bad PR...."

Me: "Wow. How did your parents meet?"

Cart-mate: "In English class. It used to be required, in the '60s."

Me: "If my partner were here, she'd be calling me Barbara Walters. She says I'm always interviewing people."

Cart-mate: (A chuckle) "It's OK."

Me: Why isn't she asking me even one question about me? I'm feeling practically hostile about what feels to me to be a lack of curiosity and basic socializing on her part.

On the way to Hole #1: I'm so surprised at her apparent lack of curiosity about me that I've decided she must lack intelligence and must do clerical work or some form of manual labor. I ask the question I never meant to: "What sort of work do you do?" Now, I'm breaking a taboo; we're just supposed to be enjoying golf during a weekend getaway and I've brought up work.

Suddenly, she becomes animated. She explains that she works in a rehab section of a big New York hospital, as the counselor for people with traumatic injuries, helping them plan their new lives. It turns out that she has a Masters and several certifications.

Me: "That's so neat. I'm just working on my Masters now."

Cart-mate: "In what?"

Me: "Education. Adult Learning and Leadership...Adult Education."

Cart-mate: "Mmm."

On the car-ride home from the weekend, I'm reading a chapter for school, "Mindful Intercultural Verbal Communication" and recognize what happened in the golf-cart -- to me, if not to my cart-mate:
Interethnic frictions arise when a group uses its own verbal style yardstick to evaluate another group's verbal output. Even routine conversations can escalate into major conflicts because of our ignorance of each other's preferred verbal styles. More importantly, our ethnocentric evaluations can clutter our ability to listen clearly to ongoing communication from others. Recognizing and respecting verbal style difference requires mindfulness (Ting-Toomey, 1999, p. 110).

Maybe it's just my own aggressive shyness, having nothing to do with my culture. Maybe her Jewish girlfriend is nothing like me, or maybe she's very much like me, and it works because my cart-mate is satisfied with being the quiet one....

Love and Action

Another moment of intercultural communication occurred this morning, at breakfast: One of our friends is telling me about a "courseo"(sp?) (little course, from Spanish tradition) that she planned for a year and a half for her Episcopal church, where people who were already believers came to the church for a weekend retreat. The retreat she told me was designed to flood its participants with love all weekend, rather than doctrine.

She spoke about all of the cool things that her many months of organizing had enabled and I said finally, "My over-simplified understanding of Christianity is that love is its essence."

"My father, who was a minister always said the same thing -- that it was about one word: love."

"Well, I was thinking to myself, if Christianity is all about love, what is the essence of Judaism? And I think it's: action. I mean, we have 613 commandments and all sorts of rituals, and I think they're all designed to get us to where we can have the spiritual moments; they're all preparation for those when you were talking about all you needed to do to get ready for that weekend, so that people could have the freedom to experience the spiritual moments they did; didn't you feel honored that you enabled their experiences?"


"And it was all about your preparation."

"Yeah, that makes good sense."

During the car-ride home, I was talking to Pat about my exchange with our friend and Pat said, "Right. Judaism is all about doing acts now, in this life, without trying to do them for a future reward in some after-life. It's all about "L'Chaim!', (to Life!)," she said.

Action and love both are essential. At my best, I am action-oriented and loving. Now, if only my golf-game would ever improve....

Friday, May 29, 2009

Feeling Cute

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

Nice to Have Had Some Rest

Because I got to have time off over this past week, I feel cute and carefree-looking as we head out for our weekend. I'm wearing my Girbaud sweat-pants and a Liberty of London wool blouse that looks like cotton, and is a purple/blue/green flower-print. My friend Riva cracked me up when she commented in Facebook, "Oh, honey, you dress much better than that," in response to my quiz result of Chairman Mao -- the revolutionary leader I'd be, if I were.

I have no idea how others will perceive me, but I do feel cute. If I ask Pat how I look, she'll simply say, "Fine." She still doesn't get that "Fine," is insufficient!

One Blog for the Road

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

Heading Out for the Weekend

As we get ready to go, I'm thinking about my mom's cataract surgery and how I forgot she'd had anesthesia for it, and how crestfallen I was the other day when I called and she hung up quickly, telling me she was too tired to keep talking.

My mother reminded me of Charlotte, the spider in *Charlotte's Web* then. She just kept getting more and more tired as she was declining. Thank God it was about the anesthesia, I recalled, when we spoke yesterday. And yet, none of us knows how long each of us has to live. Is the rainy weather influencing my mood?

Thursday, May 28, 2009


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

To Understand, but...

I'm too full of human-nature. A group is diverse enough as long as it includes me, I think, and I believe that that's most people's true definition of diversity, i.e., as long as I'm included -- whoever "I" is -- then the group is sufficiently diverse...I mean, I think that when people *really* think about our basic sense of inclusion, before we remember to add sophistication/doing the right thing to it, that's how we feel.

Last night, I walked out of my Intercultural Communication class, thinking, Really, I just want everyone to see how interesting *my* culture is, i.e., that I'm a Jewish-American-lesbian-left-handed-IBMer from the East coast, but who has lived in the Midwest and abroad a couple of times.

Shame washed over these thoughts, as I knew that they were the opposite of what the class is trying to teach.

Also, as loquacious as I can be, I'm known to be a good listener, too, and I'm interested in people and what moves them...but I'm not a huge Peace Education champion, and I also recall my experience with a basic practicum in Conflict Resolution last summer: excellent class, learned a great deal and concluded that no one could pay me to be a professional mediator, as I just don't want to help people understand one another's viewpoints for a living, let alone have to seek to understand all sides all day long.

Actually, there was some of that with being a people-manager, but not to the degree that the practicum or this class is focusing on it. Why would I sign up for this course then? I'd like to know how to be a more effective intercultural communicator, I say, but aren't I really trying to figure out how to transmit more appealing messages about my own culture and identity?

I can hear Pat, my mom, sisters and friends saying, "Don't be so hard on yourself. At least you're willing to take such a class, which most people wouldn't be curious enough to do. True. And as I wrote above, I do feel that most people are happy if their culture and identity is regarded and included, as opposed to consciously seeking to include others I'm probably no worse in my attitude than many, but I'm also earnest enough to wish I were more generous in my curiosity about others' cultures.

My favorite part of being an IBMer is that I've met, and become friends with, people from cultures that differ vastly from mine, and that's how I've learned most of what I've learned about other cultures. What's the point of wanting to understand or at least listen to people from other cultures? The book by Anne Fadiman is among the answers. Listening can be a matter of life and death, if we want to take the fear-based approach to intercultural communication, i.e., we'd better learn to communicate, as people's lives hang in the balance. What a memorable book, so I'm not criticizing it at all; I loved it!

What I'd like to do, too, though, is to *want* to become better at listening to people from other cultures openly in order, simply, to live in a more interesting world.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Intercultural Miscommunication

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

Even in a Floridian Condo Swimming-pool

What's the worst that could happen if intercultural communication goes awry? The worst: the communicators decide that one another are not human. Do I mean that they think of one another as animals? Not necessarily. Some cultures, and many individual people, revere animals.

Think vermin, i.e., the peskiest sort of animals, e.g., how Jews were regarded by our oppressors during the Holocaust. We were to be "exterminated." My mom told me that her friend Maria's dad helped invent Zyklon-B, the gas that was used in the concentration-camp gas chambers. They are Jews and my mom said he never dreamt that his invention would be used for genocide, let alone that of his own people.

I'm thinking about the mini-series I didn't want to watch with my partner Pat, about the history of Native-Americans, as I didn't really want to know how filthy a number of the first settlers were to them. "They're rich *now*," a friend remarked, referring to their success in the casino industry.

"Yeah, some are," I didn't finish my thought, which was: rich by exploiting the gambling part of human nature, and I wonder if it sometimes feels to some Native-American gambling entrepreneurs like they're avenging their ancestors, since so many of the gamblers likely have Anglo-American foreparents. I'm referring particularly to the gamblers who are addicted to it. Is there a satisfaction in seeing some of the great-great-grandchildren of one's oppressors in a weakened state? Am I projecting?

Vengeance only gets people so far; it doesn't restore the damaged psyches, and bodies, of one's forebearers. Writing of vengeance reminds me of wars, which is apt, since it's Memorial Day. Up until yesterday, I was poised simply to add a tweet to Twitter, thanking our armed-services people for their service. The book I'm reading now for my upcoming Intercultural Communication course, *The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Cultures*, moves me to write more than the 140-character max allowed by Twitter.

I am grateful for armed-servicepeople's personal sacrifices, including those of my father of blessed memory, who served as a radar technician on the U.S.S. Alabama during World War II, so that I could enjoy the freedom I do.

How Wars Begin

I'm also thinking about what *starts* wars. When beings cannot find a way to communicate peacefully, they become violent. The scar down the length of the inside of my left-hand middle-finger proves it; one of our cats was afraid to be put in a pet-carrier to go to the vet and we could not fine a way to help her understand that we weren't endangering her. So she fought bloodily.

The book I'm reading about a Hmong child's life is also a brief history of her people, and among the anthropologists it quotes, W.R. Geddes (1959) makes the analogy between the Hmong people and the Jewish people:
The preservation...of their ethnic identity for such a long time despite their being split into many small groups surrounded by different alien peoples and scattered over a vast geographic area is an outstanding record paralleling in some ways that of the Jews but more remarkable because they lacked the unifying forces of literacy and a doctrinal religion.... (p. 18).

People who feel oppressed, at some point, though they don't necessarily want to fight, are compelled to do so. The analogy with our cat Toonces is not meant to insult Hmong or Jewish people by making a comparison to animals; it's just another example of intercultural miscommunication. On Friday, as I was reading this account of an epileptic Hmong child, on the other side of the couch across from me, a crazy wail issued from the throat of one of our friends' pet-dogs. One of our friends rushed over to find her little dog stretched out rigidly, having a seizure, which had never before happened. And there was a little puddle of urine by her dog-bed, which also had never happened before.

My friend held her dog and no extra communication was necessary. We recognized what had happened. She was an old dog and she was failing, and it's sad, and they'll take her to the vet for advice in treating the seizures after the holiday-weekend. But what if she were a baby, with her natural parents to advocate for her, but no one would listen to her parents? What if they systematically misunderstood, ignored or contradicted her parents' wishes?

If I were her parents, I would fight to be understood and respected if necessary, no matter how uncivilized I seemed. And I think that's the worst that can happen with intercultural miscommunication: The cultures begin considering it to be a matter of inter-species communication challenges.

If only I could always remember the mantra about other cultures: They're not better or worse, just different, I'd be all-set. It's when I focus on how foreign they seem, or how alien(ated) I feel, that I set the stage for assuming ill-will. I'm reminded of my first few visits to Pat's family in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Pat told me that growing up, any of her classmates who were Black had to be the children of a Green Bay Packer; I inferred that there was not much diversity there.

God, how would I feel there, as someone who's Jewish from birth with East-coast roots? How exotic would I be? How exotic would they be to me with their rabid Packer football patriotism and near-Canadian accents? Standing with Pat, her mom and brother at the Packers Hall of Fame that first visit, I did feel out of my element.

Sixteen Thanksgiving visits later, I feel familiar if not fully kindred with Green Bay. I've been thinking about my historical arm's-length approach to Green Bay while watching the Native-American mini-series and reading this book about the Hmong people and the particular Hmong family. In Green Bay, the Oneida Indians have their own nation, with their own license-plates, and a huge casino. And Pat's mom was a literacy volunteer extraordinaire who helped a number of Green-Bay-based Hmong people to become literate.

The Swimming-pool as a Case Study

A circle of older women -- probably 30 years older than I on average -- stood in the shallow end of the pool when I began my laps this morning. "Would you please swim width-wise on the other side of the rope?" one of them asked me after my first lap.

"It's easier for me to swim laps length-wise. There's room for all of us."

"Well, we'll be going to the wall, so...."

I swam off in a huff and complied, with deep resentment. If I could become so irritable in such a low-stress environment, what a great reminder of how easy it is to interculturally-miscommunicate in more stressful circumstances. Why didn't they understand that it would be extra-repetitive for me to have to swim width-wise? They wondered why I couldn't understand that I had the whole deep-end nearly to myself.

Around 15 minutes into my swim, I relaxed and enjoyed it. Afterward, not yet even thinking of this swimming incident in the context of intercultural communication, I told Pat, "Pat, I know the secret of intercultural miscommunication: Everyone wants to be understood, but not to take the time to understand."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Joys of Being a House-guest

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

Eight Hours of Sleep at Last

Well, I had eight hours a couple of weekends ago, too, when we were hosting our friend from Virginia, so maybe it's about changing my routine by either hosting or being hosted by friends.

The Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton movie whose title I can't recall is playing in the background as Pat uses one of our friend's laptops and I use another. Our friends are shopping for tonight's cookout. We contributed fresh strawberries for 10.

Which is worse? Not blogging at all, or posting something verging on inane? I'm going to stop now and pet our friends' dogs, Sydney and Little One, a miniature pincher and a long-haired chihuahua, and watch the rest of the movie.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Helping My People...

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

Is Draining, but Fun

Today, I was invited to talk with the Jewish Community of IBM, which historically (for the past couple of years) has existed as an opt-in online community whose members mostly provide tips on where to find Kosher meals while traveling on business.

The leader is a member of the IBM Manager Community that I lead and he asked me some time ago, "Would you like to talk with the Jewish at IBM Community about Leadership Development opportunities?"

"Sure," I said, feeling more responsibility than usual, more nervous. It's one thing to help leaders at large, but to help leaders from my own community was more pressure than I expected.

In the experience of it today, when I heard a couple of clicks about 15 minutes into the hour, I was crestfallen. What Epikorsische (overly-secular) thing did I say that caused them to hang up on this teleconference, on me? Specifically, I worried that I had somehow offended a couple of the more strictly, Jewishly observant members. Oh, well. Keep your cheery tone up, I told myself and forged on.

It felt important to be telling them of the many resources that were available for their IBM leadership development, both online and as part of formal learning programs and offerings, and to be interspersing my own experience with the tools particularly. Why shouldn't I help my people specifically along with all IBMers? Historically, I've helped my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender IBM colleagues a great deal, but never before was called on to help a dedicated group of Jewish IBMers.

Blame it on Web 2.0; every IBMer can start up an online community behind our firewall now. How great that we can find one another so much more easily now, i.e., people with whom we naturally affiliate.

Probably, about 20 people spent their lunch- and dinner-time with me, depending where they were calling from -- one guy said he was dialing from Israel and had a super-Israeli name -- and only a few consistently asked questions. It can be a loaded topic, and a bit anxiety-provoking, I was reminded, and probably, it didn't help that I called the presentation, "IBM Leadership Development: Another Way for Your Family to Klive Nachas [Take Pride]."

Later, this afternoon, I received an instant-message from a colleague, asking if he could speak with me individually about IBM leadership opportunities, as he had not been comfortable, talking in front of the rest of the callers.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one feeling some pressure. It was worth it, though. Certainly, my mom was proud to hear about the session.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Future

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

No One Knows It, Happily...

A couple of colleagues hosted a party for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employee networking group at their home this afternoon and we drove 90 minutes each way to be there.

What's staying with me is how continuity and change live together; their home was as gorgeous as ever, and still on a beautiful piece of land, but we were struck by some differences since the last time they hosted this event, in the Spring of '06:

  1. Two of my long-time colleagues with whom I spent much of the party last time no longer were with IBM -- one because she chose to go to another organization and another because one of her division's projects was discontinued
  2. Pat and I are kitty-mothers
  3. Not only was I accepted into the Masters program for which I applied at Columbia University's Teachers College -- which I wondered aloud with one of my colleagues at that 2006 party if I should even apply -- I've completed half of the program so far, going part-time, one course per semester
  4. My mom has had two breast cancer scares -- one real and one not, and thank God has survived the real bout
  5. Pat has practically become certified by Rutgers as a Master Gardener
  6. I'm enjoying a second-wave of technology excitement, like I haven't felt since the mid-late '90s due to Web 2.0 and Virtual World environments
  7. Pat and I've lived in India for six months and have returned from India.

What will happen over the next three years, I wonder, but am glad to discover it as we go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Previous Blog-entry Reminds Me...

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

Gender Is Personal

Last Friday, Pat and I broke our routines -- either synagogue services at our NYC congregation, or more often, Middle Eastern food out locally. Instead, we attended a charity-event with our friend, at her request. We went out of loyalty to her more than for the non-profit organization. In fact, we felt a bit betrayed by the organization; when one of its leaders first explained the rationale for the upcoming transformation to me last September, it made brilliant, intellectual sense, but sitting at the event, I felt wistful and not altogether happy:

It had transformed itself from GenderPAC into True Child, which I couldn't even find on the web when I looked for it. At the event, I learned that by design, they won't launch the site till later this month. We felt betrayed because GenderPAC represented people of all ages, whereas the new organization was dedicated to helping children, it seemed, and even as I got it intellectually, I felt left out emotionally.

As some consolation -- actually, as *great* consolation to Pat -- as part of the event, Pat got to meet the very sexy-cute-lovely-genuine CNN anchor, Soledad O'Brien who was acting as a celebrity-chef in the event's cook-off, and who said she was helping the organization because as a mother of four, she wanted all of her kids to be happy with whoever they were; I'm paraphrasing.

Bitterly and hungrily in a number of ways, I sat at the event, thinking, I haven't got kids and I want my GenderPAC back, and then also felt guilty at my lack of being able to subscribe to the big-picture. We left with gift-bags, each of which contained a mini rolling-pin. I surprised Pat and rolled it down her arm pre-sleep, which simply made her chuckle; we're going on 17 years together.

The next morning, my friend and I took a walk while Pat attended her soup-kitchen-volunteer-recognition luncheon. I confessed that we went only to support our friend, who's on the board, and that we didn't subscribe to the tenets of the organization any longer: "You're so much better than I, as you don't have kids either [and you're heterosexual], but I just don't want to support an organization that excludes me, when it used to include me."

"We figured this would happen, that we'd lose a number of the GLBT community, but the ones we lose don't realize --"

"It's for *us*, I know," I said, "because it's true that gender anxiety is all about homophobia --"

"Exactly! And so by educating people before it's too late, while they're still educable as children, it'll benefit the GLBT Community ultimately."

I know that my friend is right. And if a heterosexual, child-free person can believe in True Child, why can't I?

My Inadvertent Avatar Harrassment

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

That's What They All Say

Really, I did not mean to impose a man's outfit on my colleague, but he arrived at the OpenSim test space at the psychically perfect time, as my other colleague was showing me how to give people a folder full of men's clothing.

There he was, standing across the grassy plaza, looking small and a bit vulnerable.

"What, you don't like my red leggings?" He asked, when I chatted my offer. In this particular OpenSim tool, everyone arrives as female their first time in-world, but his or her real name appears over his or her cartoon-head.

In real-life, I've met this colleague only a few times, as he's from another country, and probably, we have not seen each other since 1997, though we see each other's status in Facebook nearly daily.

"Sarah's having her facilitator final exam and she needs to give away clothing," my colleague typed, tongue-in-cheek, or a similar message, as a way of excusing my intrusiveness....Indeed, she was trying to help me gain that experience at that very moment.

How amazing that I saw my colleague's photo all the time in Facebook, but I got extra-excited when I spotted his avatar moving around in OpenSim because it felt like we were together in the same place, for real, even though his name did not match his appearance at all.

It Goes Both Ways, Whether or Not Intentionally

Very soon, a bunch of big guys in suits, all from his country, materialized by his side, like body-guards, and I felt intimidated. Why isn't he taking the clothing I offered, I wondered. I waited with some frustration while he stood with his back to me as the big, suited avatars began moving around the plaza.

My female colleague and I were the only "real" women in the space and I felt vaguely menaced, and alternately nervous, like we were at a high school dance. Suddenly, I saw my male colleague's body swell up and transform, hulk-like, into a man's body, and when he turned around, he was wearing a men's suit with a Hawaiian shirt. Unlike his colleagues, he'd opted against wearing a tie, which made him look less menacing, but also less accessible than when he was small and a bit chesty. Now, he reminded me of the actor Don Johnson during his "Miami Vice" days.

Didn't I need to get back to work? They started asking my colleague useful questions about the technology that I could have learned from, but suddenly, I felt awkward and shy, and the need to get out of there. Reluctantly and eagerly at once, I typed, "I'm gonna go. Thanks," to my female colleague and clicked "Quit."

Both of Us Were Still Thinking About Our Chance Meeting

Later in the afternoon, I received the following, gentle message from him in e-mail:
Hey Sarah,

Thanks for the help in SL.That was very useful. I am really liking using Sametime 3D for meetings. I hadn't used SL in awhile (The personal ROI wasn't there for me). But with all the tools that are there now, I am much more enthusiastic about it. I can see it being a de facto way of meeting.

I think there will also be some interesting discussion around what constitutes appropriate business dress for these things. I suspect it will be that people will wear roughly what they wear in the real world. On the other hand, if I wanted to change my gender in SL, who is going to say I can't? Instead of business casual we might have gender casual. Or species casual for that matter! :) (e.g., [my colleague's name]? Oh, he's that rooster over there! Lookin' good, [my colleague's name]! :) ) Seriously, it could provide for some interesting discussion. Likewise, the reverse could also occur, where instead of it being more open, it could become more closed if we were meeting people from more conservative parts of the world. (I might not like that, but I could see the potential of it happening).

Talk to you soon, Sarah.

Oy, how ironic! Me, who was just training other facilitators this morning via a draft of facilitator notes:
Note: Men appear as female avatars by default; do not bait them or be too apologetic and rather, just help them change genders matter-of-factly, if they wish to, as in my experience, a number feel unsettled by the experience and we ought not add to their anxiety by joking with them about it; also, if they joke first, and it's not funny, don't laugh along, as we don't want to appear misogynistic to any other participants -- I know how this might sound overly-earnest/too PC, but I appreciate your taking this advice.

The facilitators of two genders were fine with my advice, and then virtual reality happened later the same day, and I did not rise properly to the occasion myself. It's remarkable, as I've been talking to another colleague for months about the sensitivity around self-expression in Virtual World environments; she has raised my consciousness that some people even prefer to present themselves in-world as an animal, or a robot.

It's true. At a recent, behind-the-firewall event, I saw a little, brightly-striped fish, a short robot and a man with a big, furry tail, among the rest of us, who were more conventional. Most recently, my childhood friend, who's an avid avatar, gave me the gift of some shoes that sparkle brightly, until I type in the chat window, "Bling off." Not too wild, except that I would never wear blinding stilettos in real-life.

Bling On

I responded to my virtually FTM colleague:
Yes, yes, yes to all that you said. It was really fun to see you suddenly/psychically in there today. All of the sudden a group of [his native country] guys materialized....

I didn't mean to foist men's clothes on you. Truly, just when you arrived, [my other colleague] was teaching me how to give any man who was anxious about his default gender being female a packet of men's clothing, and voila, there you were! A friend and colleague is actually drafting ideas on how to enable IBM people to express themselves as they see fit in SL/OpenSim behind our firewall, e.g., being whatever gender or species or machine they wish to be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Psalms Share with Rite Aid

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

Both Appear on Amsterdam in NYC, Between 69th and 70th

...with a Halal sandwich cart on the sidewalk between them. On the way to my last class of the semester on Thursday afternoon, I was stopped at a red-light on 69th and Amsterdam. To my left sat a sturdy, stone-cement synagogue with Isaiah 44:22 carved above the entrance in Hebrew: "Shuva elai kee ga'altichah"[/"Return to me, for I have redeemed you."]

The light turned green and I drove onward. Two days after seeing that message, just before waking, I dreamt I was alone near Teachers College on a Friday night and opted to go to services at a building across the street on Broadway and 120th; it featured a passage from the Psalms, too, the gist of which was similar, if a bit harsher initially, i.e., "You are a wretch, but you will be all right if you enter this building."

In the dream, I walked into the five-story brown-stone building with that message carved into it, and apparently, there was no Shabbat service. I walked all the way to the top floor of the building and entered a room that appeared to have hosted the rabbi and rebitzen (his wife) until recently; their clothes were in two separate piles on the floor, like they had slipped out of them and into something more Shabbasdik (Shabbat-appropriate).

In the center of the room, with its back to me, was the largest cat I had ever seen, lying on a table. It was just the cat and me in the room, and its striping reminded me of that of a skunk, only it looked mangier. Even so, I approached it and petted it and it began purring loudly. Its purring gave me comfort, and I woke up.

What message did God want to transmit to me? Spend more time with our cats? I'm never fully alone? Pay attention to messages, no matter how odd initially?

Father's Day

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

...According to

The moon is waning at 98 percent full, states, which means that probably, it was full last night. My father of blessed memory died on a full moon, and so I always feel his presence most around these times of the month.

It's chilly, windy and sunny this morning, I notice while retrieving our NYT from the driveway, like we're living once again in Chicago. Now, back indoors, a cat's warm body hangs over the crook of my left arm, which makes typing challenging. This is the first Mother's Day, where I've felt somewhat qualified to be celebrated -- for parenting our two cats, Phoebe and Toonces, who we found at the local P.A.W.S. shelter last July.

It's the old Joy and Pain combo, I'm feeling this morning, looking at the sunlit leaves that are being whipped around by the cold wind....

Joy: Pat and I, finally, are some sort of parents; Pain: my father's not alive; Joy: my mother, at 83 and a half, thank God, is still alive and relatively healthy; Pain: she is much less mobile and less able-bodied than even a couple of years ago; Joy: my mom's brain is totally intact; Pain: I didn't sleep well; Joy: I have the most loving, compassionate partner I could ever wish for; Pain: she's still asleep while I'm unable to; Joy and Pain: we'll see my mother, sisters and their families later, but instead, I just feel like lazing around locally.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Disrespecting My Blog

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

Writing an Entry While Watching "Rescue Me"

One of my close relatives created a Facebook profile today. The first scene of "Rescue Me" reminds me of the first few lines of this week's "New Yorker" story.

I sent a suggested photo to my relative to use as the profile picture. This relative and I are so different. God, I'm hungry for dinner.

Our lawn-mower broke and so our neighbor Sam mowed the rest of it for us. How great is that? Tomorrow night, is my final class of the semester. What did I learn? I learned about synchronicity and that's the biggest thing. I don't know how I'll be different as a result of that class, Time and Learning.

Learning is so like that, in every realm. We know, as educators, that we're helping others grow, but why isn't it more quantifiable?

Why did a colleague discount Twitter earlier today? Same reason my relative is reluctantly now on Facebook. What sort of person is attracted to social technologies and what sort, repelled?

Well, I wonder if there are any narcissists who don't value social media, i.e., can someone who avoids all of these forums -- blogs, microblogs, social network profiles et al -- be nonetheless narcissistic? I'm reminded of a tweet I created some months ago, about how I've never been so self-absorbed and so social at once since the advent of all of these public posting and exchange opportunities. My thread is more coherent now, as the TV's on mute while Pat's generously preparing our dinner, so I can blog. God, I'm hungry.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Teleporting Back to Childhood...

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

With a Childhood Friend

The best parts of this snapshot: the amethyst crystals in the background and my friend -- we'll call her by her Second Life name -- Amarynth, who's wearing multi-colored, translucent angel-wings...and my gamer-girl getup; I'm in the foreground. Amarynth is standing next to one of her relatives, who lives far away in real-life.

This snapshot is from after the donkey-ride at the Car Wash sim. When we were kids, we went to fairs with carnival-rides...when we weren't hunting for rocks, playing air-hockey at the arcade in Norwalk or looking at "Tiger Beat" magazine together. It was silly and fun to be sitting in the back of the cart with our grown-up outfits, Amarynth's longer hair, blowing in the breeze as we rode around the odd mall. Here, we're about to enter a carnival ride like none there ever was 30+ years ago.

Amarynth wondered if we could ride in the same bubble. "Let's try," I suggested. I hopped into it and apparently, it was half possible; I got to ride inside it and she sat atop it. It was as close to a psychedelic experience as I've ever had. We tumbled and tumbled through the sky, 1,000 meters, finally landing on the gorgeous property of a very tall woman named Bambitwice.

Bambitwice appeared and asked if she could help us. Amarynth did most of the chatting and I just followed along for whatever the next adventure would be. Bambi told us that she would show us something really neat; we followed her till she took us to an outdoor shore, where she raised her arms in the air and made it start raining. And then she let us experience a tornado -- as part of it. I actually held my breath through a lot of it; that's how real it felt.

Finally, our guide of the surreal ushered us over to the Museum of Illusions she had created, where one of the exhibits offered each of us a free pair of anti-gravity boots. They were just the thing to complete the elegant outfit that Amarynth had generously given to me earlier in our adventure.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Shabbat Chillaxin'

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

Shabbat (Sabbath) Eve Possibilities

  • Lounging, Lazy-boy-by-Lazy-boy with Pat, catching up on Tivo'ed shows
  • Seeing if my friend Amy will help me help my Second Life avatar to become presentable
  • Sticking my face against the cool screen of the closest window for a minute, to stare at the marvelous Japanese Maple tree in our yard and to smell post-rain spring
  • Reading "The Columbia Spectator" cover to cover and Teachers College newsletters
  • Learning more about Kafka from Louis Begley
  • Reading more of Motherless Brooklyn pre-sleep
  • Ignoring the crawling text of CNN
  • Daydreaming about Pat's and my upcoming vacation with our Floridian friends
  • Going to bed relatively early
  • Petting a curled-up kitty
  • Being mesmerized by the design of a curled-up kitty's tabbie fur
  • Visiting all of the new plants that Pat bought at the plant-sale where she volunteered all day; was she the best customer, too?
  • Calling my mother to see how her day was
  • Speaking with my 16-year-old nephew Zach about his sitar-love....