Saturday, June 27, 2009

Family, Mortality, Life...

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

And Other Light Topics for a California Morning

"What's with your family?" asked my cousin -- let's call him Mark -- at dinner last night at a Turkish restaurant in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

"My uncle died and we're here on Sunday instead of at the funeral; my dad was estranged from his brother, so we'll just go to the shivah to see his kids when we get back, but we wanted to be here and see you and not cancel this trip," I had just finished saying.

And just prior to that, we had been talking about how my mother and her sister had been estranged until the very end of their lives, too. My mother and my aunt both spent time separately with his mother of blessed memory, but never together.

"Ruthie [my aunt's name] was great --" Mark began.

I really didn't want to hear this; I was jealous that Mark knew my aunt and I didn't. "Was she funny?" I asked competitively, since my mom can be hilarious.

"She was...eccentric --"

Good. Not funny, though.

"I remember being at a wedding of cousins in Ohio [I guess we weren't invited to whatever the wedding] and Mike [her husband] and she were doing yoga on the balcony of their hotel-room. Everyone thought that was just...."

So I'm here the next morning, overlooking Union Square from our 18th-floor hotel-room and can't start the day in earnest before trying to figure out how I'm feeling:

Mark's and my childhood is so gone. Mark is half a year younger than I and his mother was the social-glue that kept our families together, and she's been gone from cancer for several years now.

My mom still calls Mark now and then, and Mark loves her, but when we were kids through college, our families would get together for holidays at their home in northern-New Jersey and spend full days together. Mark and I always were the tall ones among our siblings, and the gay or lesbian ones...though that was not revealed till we were 21; our height was always visible, and probably our sexual orientation, too, but....

"Your mother called my mother when you came out, for advice," Mark mentioned last night, and I'm trying to picture the two of them, puzzling it out. Pat recalled last night that when Mark's mom met Pat, she said simply, "Welcome to the family."

Pat and I loved her. His mom was a sexy version of my mother -- fun and funny and very kind. And he's like her.

Mark lost his leg, from the knee through his foot, to cancer a couple of years ago. And he's HIV+. And still tall and charming and fun and funny. He walks with a cane, but otherwise, he's the same tall cousin I've always enjoyed walking down the street with. I feel especially formidable when we're together.

When will he die? When will my mother die? When will Pat die? When will I die? My uncle's death accentuates my mother's longevity and adds a desperate edge to it for me, meaning, makes me feel more anxious about how much longer we've got together. Any of us, and especially my mom and me....

If the view out my window, of sunny, home-filled mountains in the distance, and Louis Vuitton windows decked out in Pride colors in the foreground isn't God's reminder to live in the present, I don't know what is.

Time for breakfast and more pride.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Life is a Cycle...

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

Sometimes the Tires Go Flat

Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Uncle Vevy (Velvel). All are gone within days of each other.

This confirms that I can never talk about death without also thinking, and most of the time talking, about affirming life: The popular poster of Farrah Fawcett helped accelerate my lesbian awakening when I first saw it while descending the escalator at Caldor, a department store in my hometown of Stamford. A few years later, I was inspired to "shake my body (down to the ground)" by Michael Jackson.

Unfortunately, I didn't know my uncle very well, nor his children -- my first cousins -- till we were adults, as our fathers were estranged. I blogged about this recently.

I'm feeling grief at my lack of grief, and I am wishing that we could go back to when I was little and we were getting together with them at least once in awhile. I have just one, vague memory of our backing out of their New Jersey home's driveway, sitting low (due to my small height back then) in the backseat of our station wagon, when I was probably around four years old. I had gotten to play with my older cousin, Yanai, and it had been a fun day. His little sister, Sarit, would be born a year later.

I'm grieving missed opportunities right now, grieving that I have more memories of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson than of my own uncle, aunt and cousins.

We will visit with Sari (for short) and Yanai upon our return from San Francisco and God, please help me have helpful things to say, and more important to be able to listen utterly-intentionally/attentively.

God, please let my uncle and father be re-united as the close siblings they were when they were kids, if there's an after-life. Also, please let my mother live for many, many more years, and Pat and the rest of my loved ones. Amen.

One of my friends wrote to me, asking if my uncle's passing makes me think about what I'm contributing to this world because it does so for her. If Uncle Vevy caused anyone to pause and consider their life-purpose, that's a bonus contribution he made.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Hundred and Ninety-six Characters

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

Too Big to Be a Tweet

My father died when I was 17, but at least it was of cancer and not foul-play. Poor Linda Zapata of Madison, Wisconsin doesn't know *what* became of her mom. Pat is watching "48 Hours Mystery."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mayor Bloomberg in Bloom

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

I Heart the Mayor

Why did I feel like crying, seeing Mayor Bloomberg, standing on our congregation's bimah (pulpit) tonight? I figured it out in the moment: I was staring at him with a lump in my throat, thinking, He's not very big...his tie is a cheerful pink-orange color and perfectly knotted and dimpled...he's getting a standing ovation from us and why do I feel like standing...? His being here is a simple, powerful sign of respect for my people and me; that's why.

On Sunday, Fred Phelps and his crew will be protesting our synagogue and I worried during the packed service that maybe one of them would be arriving early and would opt to blow us up. I thought, too bad I'm sitting so close to the front of the church because it will be extra-tough to get out if the need to do so should arise -- seats were saved up front for my hard-of-hearing friend, her partner and me (Pat was at the U.S. Open).

Pat's wry, sad comment whenever I worry about that, e.g., when thousands of us meet at the Javits Center for High Holiday services, is, "Don't worry, Sarah, they won't hurt us because who would be upset to hear that a bunch of gay Jews had been killed?" Oy!

My big wish in life is always to transform indignities into art and my thoughts of being imperiled strike me as an indignity I suffered even as I visited it upon myself.

What would art be by contrast? Which art could combat the "God Hates Fags" fans of Fred Phelps? I'm recalling my dinner conversation with my friends and it begins to counter him, just replaying the dialogue in my head, i.e., his hate might be in the air, but our love and loveliness is, too:

At dinner, among other topics, like exquisite salt, a special restaurant in Vietnam, the time-suck of Facebook and the essential nature of micro-blogging, we talked about how flirting manifests itself, and how none of us feels like we're naturally-inclined to flirt.

"Yeah, but what about that time in the elevator between you two?" I asked, recalling their narrative of the first time they saw each other and the electricity of the meeting.

One of them responded, "That wasn't flirting; that was a fait accompli."

The whole discussion on flirting was in response to my saying, "I'd tell this story if Pat were here, too [and did tell Pat the other night, after it happened], but I had such a great time at work the other day: I was at the Watson Research Lab in Yorktown Heights for an internal conference and I spotted a lesbian Researcher I knew from an EAGLE dinner [EAGLE is our GLBT employee group] a number of years ago. She was walking down the hall in jeans, which happens in Research, and suddenly, even though I was in a very grownup suit, like most of the people at the conference, I felt less alone there -- like I was not by myself."

I spoke her name, but it turned out to be the name of the only other openly-lesbian IBM Researcher with whom I'm slightly acquainted, rather than hers. I don't even know if they know each other. If so, well...I was embarrassed in any case.

"You have triplets, right?" I asked her, trying to redeem myself, memory-wise.

She smiled generously, "Yes."

"Well, it's good to see you. Are you still working on that cool project? The one, where I was the only non-Researcher, who called in to hear your presentation and asked all those questions that revealed how little I knew?

She smiled again. Her smile relaxed me and also made me feel like she was either deeply amused by me, or also delighted by not being the only one of her kind for a short bit of her day: "I'm working on solar panels now," she said.

"As in solar energy?"


"Wow, you're reminding me of my 7th grade science project. I won Honorable Mention in the Connecticut State Science Fair for 'An Answer is Blowing in the Wind.'"

"Wind generators," she said animatedly.

"Right. Ah, you make me feel like I'm 12 again, which is a good thing," I said, and began to walk away.

She turned and walked away, smiling further.

"That never happens at work, you guys," I said, feeling a bit sheepish, "Typically, I never flirt anywhere, but it felt great for the two of us to be right there in the glass-hallway, enjoying that rare moment of feeling totally at home beyond our homes.

One of my friends said, "Sure, and it was a lift."

It was. It did lift my spirits. I went into the conference more confident, more receptive and happier.

Wouldn't it be nice to figure out how to feel at home beyond my home more often...without having to flirt with a genius mother of triplets.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shavuah Tov

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

Have a Good Week

It's gotta be a better week than last week when an innocent man was killed by a conspiracy hallucinator. We're watching cheery TV shows, about murdered and potentially murdered families, on "The Closer" and "Medium." Kyra Sedgewick is so appealing.

Of course, I'm jumping to desire to distract myself from thoughts of death. That's always how it works with me.

Just saw a headline that declares that the Holocaust Museum security guard might live. Why did he have to be shot at all?

Ladies in Love

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

At Any Age

Pat and I watched "Ladies in Lavender" last night. I knew nothing about the film, and as I watched the initial scenes of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith strolling down the beach and then returning to the home they shared, I was hopeful that it was a lesbian story I'd never heard of. Bonus, I thought. Turns out -- spoiler alert! -- they fall for a young stranger who comes into their lives, and who is male. (Pat and I fell for the young stranger who comes into *his* life, Natascha McElhone)...but I digress.

Judi Dench's character moved me most, how she flushed and pined for the young man -- actually, that reminds me of how she flushed and pined for Cate Blanchett two years later, in "Notes on a Scandal."

I loved both movies and they're worlds apart -- two spinster-sisters in the '30s in Cornwall vs. a lesbian in denial in London in this century, and both reminded me that desire is irrational -- is arational a word? -- and in the case of "Ladies in Lavender," love is a life-force bigger than any. As I sat there, watching -- another spoiler alert! -- Judi Dench's reaction to the young man's unexpected and sudden departure, I thought, I'm not in love with our cats, like she was with the boy, but that's how I would feel if either of them disappeared at this point. Love is powerful. Any type of love.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bonus Blog

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

Class Was Cancelled

Typically, I'd just be saying hi to the girls, Toonces and Phoebe, and then Pat, after walking in the garage-door upon arriving home from class, but tonight, it was cancelled.

Already some months ago, I wrote about how I felt that Facebook was becoming like "a chick on the side," in relation to my blog. Now, I'm resigned that my blog-fidelity is more ephemeral than I'd ever have imagined.

Maybe I feel some permission to be a bit worn out, if not any happiness, from reading an article from yesterday's "The New York Times"
about how few blogs are regularly maintained anymore. The only reason I had time to read the article was because class had been cancelled tonight.

How come I used to make and have lots of time to write for my blog and now, it's hard lately to write twice a week? Could it be that I'm taking six credits this summer? Could it be that Facebook is even more so instantly gratifying compared to the sitemeter's output in my blog? That is, isn't it easier to connect with people directly via Facebook or Twitter than to write a personal essay and hope that people will come whose identity I can know only in terms of their location in the world, and not even always that?

How can I explain how sad I feel, writing all of this? The blog has given me so much. I hope I never abandon it because it gave me such a thrilling gift these past two years so far; it made me feel like a real writer. It was a place to be honest.

Pat just interrupted from the other room to tell me that a woman is suing "Cap'n Crunch" because all of these years, buying the cereal, she thought that the crunch-berries were real fruit. Pat always provides comic relief.

I knew it was a bad sign when I didn't blog about our experience of the 2nd Passover seder at our friends', Julie & Kathy. They always inspire me to blog. Blog? Sleep? Blog? Read and write for school? Blog? Watch a movie/TV show with Pat? Blog? Facebook? Twitter? Read "The New Yorker?" Take a bath? Blog? Pat just told me it's time to go to sleep. Sleep.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Organic and Conventional Family

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

Which is Better for Me?

Fur is flying and inhuman sounds of satisfaction are reverberating from her throat. She wipes her pink nose along my forearm and then my little striped, pointy-eared daughter beds down in my lap for a nap.

Every night, I tuck Phoebe in; she sleeps on our bed in the guest-room while Toonces prefers to join us in our room. I kiss Phoebe's little head and put a piece of my clothing over her body, up to her little neck so that she's even happier with her spot between the two pillows, resting on a sweater I've turned into a cat-comforter.

Pat and Toonces and Phoebe and I are a happy family.

Is Any Family Conventional?

Facebook has raised my consciousness about my genetic, extended family because a bunch of them have profiles. Last night, as a way to wind down from the week, I logged on to Facebook while we were watching a tense movie, "Nothing But the Truth," and saw a note from my first cousin. Her father, she was told by the hospice, did not have long to live, and she had also given birth recently to a boy, who she said resembles her dad.

Growing up, I barely knew my father's brother, my aunt and first cousins. The daughter and I became friends as adults. To me, he was more myth than man -- a hero who had been on the Exodus, who hadn't disembarked when the British made all English-speakers leave; fluent in Yiddish, he feigned no fluency in English and cast his fate with his shipmates'. Probably, it was the most heroic thing he did in his life; how do you top that? Now, I guess, he's dying.

My uncle's decline brings to mind my dad of blessed memory. Really babyish thoughts are swirling, e.g., why did he get 27 more years of life than my dad? And their older sister lived for seven years longer than my dad. I do also feel sad for my cousins. There's nothing like losing a parent. But then, at least he got to see grandchildren, which my dad never did.

Where and when will the funeral be?

My other first cousin, his son -- the older of the two -- came with his father to my father's funeral and shivah. My cousin and I sat on the back-porch, where he told me about his love of *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy* and about how he had a fascination, for real, with space and the moon, and was part of an associated club; I hadn't seen him since we were young enough to take a bath together....There's a photo of the two of us in a tub when we were really little, and I had no memories of him after that.

This intrusion by my first cousin's news into my work- and school-aholism is distracting. It also reminds me of the family reunion coming up on my mother's side later this summer.

The Other Side

Similarly, I hardly knew any of my relatives on my mom's side growing up, other than my nana, who died when I was eight. While showering this morning, I was thinking, for the reunion, what memories could I share? Random ones occurred:

When my grandmother died, my mom flew to Rochester and my dad drove my two older sisters and me there, which was an eight-hour car ride; we had taken it many times in order to visit my nana while she was alive. Everyone's biggest recollection was how, single-handedly, I ate almost a whole box of Sunsweet prunes, and then how trapped they felt with me for the rest of the ride....

Another memory: We were pulling out of the parking lot of the Jewish Home for the Aged, where my grandmother lived, and at only seven or eight years old, I said, "Look, two dogs f***ing!" I guess they were on the lawn of a neighboring home; I remember my parents' shocked laughter. That was the start, probably, of my always being funniest when I least meant to be.

Another memory: At that old-folks home, a white-haired man always stood in the hallway ranting with an unearthly, mechanical voice; he must have lost his voice-box in World War I or II. My mother taught me what shell-shocked meant when I asked her why he was always there saying things that made no sense.

When I was very young, my nana still lived in her Victorian house on Rosedale Street. Once, when we visited her there, she gave me a gift of substantial piece of clear, crystalline quartz that she said was from Florida; it launched my life-long love of rocks and minerals. That and my mother were my nana's biggest contributions to my life.

What did my uncle give me? Pride in his heroism and two nice kids to know somewhat as adults. I'm praying for his comfort, and for his kids' strength.

What do our cats give me? Parenting skills, bursting feelings of love sometimes when I look at them and sleep-deprivation, as they insist on being fed daily at 6 am, and the marching across our bodies, by Toonces, usually begins at 5:30 am daily; I'm not complaining!