Saturday, September 26, 2009

Feeling Like My Mother's Mother

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

...and I Cannot Protect Her

I'm in Costco, picking up bulk-items for my mom, who cannot lift them and bring them into her home. Some of the packages are bulkier than my mom at this point. God willing, she will turn 84 on November 20th.

The same afternoon, I call my mom to confirm our meeting-place for dinner that night.

"The plans have changed," my mother says, "I cut my finger while cutting off the ends of green-beans and it bled for an hour, so I called an ambulance and they helped me at Emergency. Meet me at the JCC [Jewish Community Center] instead and we'll go from there."

All evening, I feel like I want to protect and nourish and entertain my mother. That's funny because during my commute that morning, I'm thinking, I'm so tired and all I need to do is get through the day and dinner, and then when I drop my mom off, I'll sit with her on her couch in the living room where I grew up, and then put my head in her lap to rest for a few minutes before heading home.

First, we have to go to Costco. My mom doesn't want to come into the store with me. I'm ready to get her walker out of the trunk, but she asks how to recline her seat, so she can nap.

"Is there anything else you'd like me to get?"

"If they have any of those little dill-pickles," she says.

I smile.

"What? You *asked*."

"I know. It's fine; I'll try to find them," I say, and I walk over to a shopping-cart with tears in my throat.

My mother is fast asleep when I return. The car-light jars her awake. "They didn't have the pickles, did they?"

"Yes, they did," I say, holding up two giant jars, filled with little, baby, pickles.

My mother's face lights up.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

5770, Here We Come!

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

What Whitney Houston and Cantor Max Fuchs Have in Common

Last night, Rabbi Kleinbaum struck me as the "Ellen" of the Jewish Queer world and also as my conduit to God, a striking combo. The bigger and less traditional the crowd, the funnier she is. She is so funny from the bimah that when she introduced the "Achot K'tanah" as a traditional melody from Casablanca, a number of the congregation laughed, thinking, I guess, that she was referring to the classic film.

At the outset, Rabbi Kleinbaum set the life-is-hard-but-redemption-is-possible tone for the service, discussing how, right where she was standing, earlier in the week, Oprah had interviewed Whitney Houston. Our High Holiday services require no tickets -- unlike nearly all other synagogues -- and so they are too big to hold in our regular setting; Rosh Hashanah services are held at the Town Hall and Yom Kippur services, at the Javits Center.

Whitney's misfortune, said Rabbi Kleinbaum, was that -- like a number of us -- she yielded to her self-destructive impulses, but in her case, she had to do it in the glare of the spotlight, since she was a celebrity. During her riff about Whitney Houston, she got a little edgier than I've ever heard her be and, though I'm sure unintentionally, her narrative almost seemed a bit dismissive of human frailty to me; by the end of her statements, she brought it back home to how any of us could relate to the struggle of being self-loving vs. self-destructive and, I thought, redeemed herself.

The "conduit to God" feeling happened at that point, and then again when right before we sang "Yigdal" as a congregation, she mentioned "The New York Times" article from that day's front page, about Cantor Max Fuchs. I knew that if I heard his voice, singing "Yidgdal" on Nazi soil, with bombs going off in the background, I'd be even more moved than I was in listening to her speak about it. And so I was when I went online today to find the clip (see link above to "Cantor Max Fuchs").

As we sang "Yigdal" ourselves, I thought, what a contrast: a platoon of young, Jewish men, who had survived the Omaha Beach landing, if I remembered correctly, singing during battle compared with more than 1,000 queer Jews and our non-queer, non-Jewish friends and family, singing the same piece of liturgy in post-9/11 New York City, relatively so much safer, if not yet having achieved first-class citizenship.

The Other Useful Message of the Evening Came from Rabbi Cohen

Rabbi Cohen related the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's exploration of the river that the Lenape Native Americans called Muhheakantuck to our need to appreciate our surroundings and be far more observant than we are. She spoke of Spencer Finch's installation on the High Line, which represented how the water of the Hudson River (formerly known as Muhheakantuck) looked to the artist at 720 different times of day.

Rabbi Cohen also spoke of ben ha'shmashot, the time between sunset and nightfall, as a time of uncertainty and also possibility and asked all of us to be more alert to possibilities, or at least that was my interpretation. I loved the reminder. Finally, she spoke of the wonder renewed in her life as she and her husband saw the world through their baby daughter's eyes during this, the baby's first, year. Rabbi Cohen explained that among the baby's first words was, "Wow!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Makes for Gender, or Race?

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

Culture Is King and Queen

A colleague was telling me about the National Graphics special that I missed last weekend, on the Genographics project for which IBM partnered with National Geographic. He was saying that so many of us hail from the same place originally that race is not really what differentiates us from one another. Rather, our cultures make us different from one another.

Similarly, Peggy Orenstein's article from today's NYT magazine reminded me that culture is what makes men men and women women. Coincidentally, I received a TrueChild donation request today as well. The organization's premise is the same; our culture breeds stereotypes of what is feminine and what is masculine.

Personally, four years ago, I swabbed my cheek, sent it into the Genographics project and learned that I am of Haplogroup K, which hailed from the middle-east...ern part of Africa, or at least that's what I thought when I looked at the map that accompanied my certificate, but perhaps I mis-read it, according to this article...but if not, my colleague had a point. If *I* came from Africa originally, then I know that my origins are not so different from his; he's Black...but maybe when he gets his results -- he just sent his swabs in -- he'll learn that he's *not* originally from Africa.

Also, regarding gender, I *feel* like a woman, but according to my culture, appear to be gender-ambiguous, depending on my hair-length and what I'm wearing. And what do I mean, "I feel like a woman?" All of my answers betray my own sexism, e.g., I feel especially sensitive; I cry readily; I scream blood-curdlingly when I'm terrified; I am visibly, unabashedly tender and compassionate/empathetic. Other than the screaming in terms of pitch, I know that the "evidence" I'm citing here is not/should not be unique to a particular gender...but that's how ingrained my cultural upbringing is in me. I know, I'm an adult and need to take responsibility for my outlook, and reject my culture to the extent it divides genders and races so binary-ly.


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

...Passed Relatively Averagely

This might have been the first year, where I didn't reflect in writing on my experience/memories of September 11, 2001 on the day itself. Is eight years later long enough for it not to be top-of-mind? Yes.

Is eight years later long enough for me to have let it go and forgotten it? No. During my commute yesterday, on National Public Radio, a reporter interviewed the author of a book about Port Authority employees who saved several floors' worth of people before dying themselves.

And then at 8ish pm, after my overdue haircut and dinner with my mom in Stamford, we drove past the shopping center, where we stocked up on groceries during that day in 2001 -- once I reached her from New York City, where I was working at the time. As I write this, I can still see the black cloud that was in my rear-view mirror the whole way up Madison Avenue from the IBM building on 57th.

Eight years later, my mom is still alive, thank God, and will be 84 on November 20th, God willing; Pat and I spent six months, living in India for my work -- which had its share of terrorism while we were there; I'm in an altogether different mission at work; I completed most of a Masters program; my partner Pat had successful surgery for pre-cancer in her colon; my sister and mother survived breast cancer; I learned to live with Otosclerosis; I became a blogger and micro-blogger; more of a routine swimmer; reunited with a number of friends due to Facebook; celebrated Pat's achievement of Master Gardener certification, including touring her national-treasure workplace, the Presby Memorial Iris Garden, with her; gave up, trying to give birth to a child; stood by helplessly as a friend's new baby passed away; have seen our nephews and niece, growing up sweetly; adopted two cats who are sisters; so far, thank God, have remained employed during this economic upheaval; paid for nearly half of the 15-year mortgage on our home; went on a Western Caribbean cruise with Pat and friends; went to Israel with my mother on a Hebrew University alumni trip; and Paris; Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Madrid and Rome for work -- and Pat was able to accompany me for the trip to Paris and to one of the trips to Rome; became excited about Web 2.0 and Virtual World environment possibilities in a way I didn't think could top Web 1.0, which I was really excited by from 1995-2001; and more, so...

Life has certainly gone on, since September 11, 2001, and mostly, positively. Thank you, God.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Morphing My Research Interests

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

A Comparison with Circa 2006

In the fall of 2006, when I first began my part-time Masters in Organization & Leadership with a specialization in Adult Learning and Leadership, I searched among all Columbia University dissertations for key words, trying to imagine a focus for my ultimate, "integrative project" and listed my free association here.

Today, for fun, I looked at the ProQuest PhD dissertations and Masters theses database, which lists all of them worldwide -- not just Columbia's -- and searched for: "'Second Life' and 'Virtual World.'" There were 11 results total, five of which were Masters theses.

My discovery inspired today's tweet, which asked, "What are you doing?" (Twitter didn't exist, as far as I knew, in the fall of 2006, and I had just then been introduced to Second Life, without yet having experienced it):

"Preferring originality, but so far haven't found any formula for creating writing that is both original and popular." In other words, it's cool that my potential topic (see second idea in my previous blog-entry) has not yet had lots written about it, since it's so new, but it might also be too marginal and insufficiently valued as a result.

At work, recently, a colleague reacted to an unrelated proposal, which I considered much less ground-breaking, saying that it was, "...fine, but ahead of its time." I know that my kvetching about this is reminiscent of the job-interviewee, who when you ask him or her for one weakness, responds, "I've been told I'm overly dedicated," i.e, that's not a weakness. In other words, what could possibly be wrong with being innovative, right?

I remember a colleague telling me he was getting his MBA because he had earned a patent for what was essentially web-TV, and yet no one was interested in doing anything with it at the time; "I'm getting the MBA, so that I can learn how to sell my ideas," he said.

Final Project

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

...Has an Ominous Tone

A year or so from now, I will be working on my final project for my Masters. True to form, I have a wish to get started early, especially because I'm enrolled in my required Research course this semester, and I'd prefer to do all of the assignments with that particular project in mind.

If I could do whatever I wished, without regard to the usefulness of it to my employer, which has generously funded my Masters, I would likely do something on the value of writing one's life-story as an ultimate vehicle for adult learning...and then trading with another and commenting on his or her life-story -- how the reader relates to it, how it differs from his or hers, how it inspired him or her to revisit his or her own narrative and flesh it out.

To what end? Reflection seems the deepest form of learning of any type I've encountered so far in my Masters pursuit. I mean, I guess I'm thinking that experiential learning is step 1 and reflection on that learning is step 2. If there's no written reflection, then the learning is not as deep. Step 3 would be quasi-collaborative, since there would be life-story exchanges happening.

In a corporate environment, though, which is what I'd need to focus on, probably, most people do not feel safe to reflect as openly as they would if there were no salary attached to their learning and reflection on that learning, and so it's probably not an optimally fruitful path to illuminate.

Of Greater Interest to My Employer Probably

Most likely, my employer would appreciate a multicultural lens/theme for my project, since we're such a global company, and that would be probably ensure greater learning by me, too. Wouldn't I love to travel to various locations around the world to do my research, but that's not likely feasible in terms of time or money, and anyhow, don't I believe in the potential of Virtual World environments? Yes.

Why not do my final project on how to use Second Life to build cultural intelligence? In other words, showing how colleagues from different cultures could meet in Second Life and learn about one another's culture to be more effective in doing business with one another. After all, I've already co-designed and co-facilitated a series of such sessions and all of them do seem to improve the participants' knowledge of one another's culture, according to their anonymous feedback.

Where does language fit in? So far, only colleagues who are fluent in English have been observable by me, as I'm no longer fluent in any other language. How could I test how well it worked for people who were fluent only in their own language? And how could people who did not understand one another's language still communicate with one another, to learn from one another? Could they? Could we add some from of machine-generated translator to our sessions?

What would be the point of proving that cultural intelligence could be increased by participating in Virtual World environments, e.g., Second Life? Besides showing how we could save on airplane travel? How would we ensure that participants felt engaged, rather than alienated? Well, in my experience so far, it's the prospective participants who feel alienated by the concept, until they're in-world, participating, and then mostly, they're wholly-engaged.

People are always talking about the need for "accelerated learning" in these times of explosive growth within emerging markets. Can Virtual Worlds accelerate learning? Is the quality as good as the regular-paced learning? What can Virtual Worlds help people learn that they can't learn as well in other forums?

It's September 6, 2009, and I'm glad that I'm registering some early thoughts on my Final Project in any case. It will be fun to look back at this blog-entry once my project-shape is determined, to see how it differed, how it was similar.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Parting Glances" Circa 2009

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

A Chat with Survivors of the Era

The owners of the B&B, where we're staying in Ogunquit, have a large DVD collection and yet we had seen most of the mainstream and gay titles already. "Parting Glances" was supposed to be a gay classic, and they owned it, and it was one that we had not yet seen, and so we watched it last night.

It was like getting into a time-machine. Ah, so that's how the movies depicted what it was like for the guys when I was trying to find myself as a 20-something lesbian! The B&B owners referred to it as a "sweet movie" in a tender tone and so I was hoping for a highly-poignant film experience.

Really, it was no better than most of the lesbian films we've ever seen, which didn't make me happy, but which was validating, at least, that we weren't the only ones who were so desperate for images of ourselves, being ourselves, that we accepted sub-optimal plots/acting/cinematography just to glimpse people who looked like some of us, living their lives.

This morning over breakfast, one of the owners asked, "What did you think of the movie?"

I didn't want to hurt him or insult his taste, which in every other way, e.g., the landscaping of the B&B and its interior, was lovely -- even stylish -- but I told him that it reminded me of the quality of so many of the lesbian films I'd seen over the years, i.e., not great, but that I could understand how wonderful it felt simply to see two guys simply being affectionate on the big screen.

Yes, he agreed; that was its chief appeal.

Then I said, "And I loved the soundtrack! Whatever happened to the Bronski Beat and Jimmy Somerville?"

"I don't know," he said and broke the spell. We were no longer back in Chicago in the '80s -- or for him, I imagine Pittsburgh; we were dolloping Greek yogurt that I never could have afforded back then into generous bowls for breakfast.

City Gates

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

Same Sex Stares

While I'm (still) in grad school part-time, it's such a luxury to have time to read more than one book for pleasure in a row. That's mostly what I've done this week -- read.

*The Gate at the Stairs* was my treat of the year. I don't know that anything else will thrill me in the same way, i.e., through its cleverness and pathos....I adore that combo.

The book I just completed, *Same Sex in the City (So Your Prince Charming Is Really a Cinderella),* was anthropologically interesting because I'm a 44-year-old lesbian in a 17-year, monogamous relationship while the essayists in that book all were in their 20s and 30s, and still fundamentally figuring out how to find and recognize love. It also made me realize that not all that much has changed since I came out in the '80s. In fact, perhaps the only difference is that straightened, long hair has replaced what we called "big hair," which was gelled-up, squiggly-wavy long hair.

If I weren't a lesbian, *Same Sex...* would not have been as compelling, and if I weren't a Lorrie Moore fan, a story about -- spoiler alert -- a heterosexual couple in a troubled marriage and their adoption odyssey hardly would have attracted me. As it was, I was able to appreciate both books for what they gave me (Spoiler Alert: Don't read the rest of this if you don't want to know key plot-points of each book):

  • A yearning to write more, which I always feel after reading something great and/or something I relate to
  • A better understanding of mixed-race discrimination; the adoptee is half-Black, half-White
  • Some sympathy for today's lesbians, determining their happiest possible futures
  • Memories of my early-days of being out in my 20s, in Chicago
  • Delight from the rich word-play talent of Lorrie Moore
  • Recollections of the early days post-September 11th
  • Happy sense of familiarity during descriptions of Green Bay, supper clubs and other midwestern phenomena
  • Double appreciation for Pat -- with her Green Bay heritage and as the perfect solution to my 20s, 30s, 40s...forever-companionship-need
  • Gratitude for my Jewish heritage, as I think culturally -- and of course, this is just a generalization -- a disproportionate number of Jews express ourselves publically in writing, and that's perhaps why Lauren Levin's and Lauren Blitzer's *Same Sex* book got published, rather than just remaining a case of, "You know, we really ought to write a book..."
  • A better understanding of what it's like to be half-Jewish, half-Christian, since two of Moore's main characters were, and since Lauren Blitzer wrote that she was
  • A reminder that people of all classes struggle, e.g., one of the *Same Sex...* authors threw herself a giant coming-out party at a premier NYC hotel, and that did not mean she did not suffer any loneliness or was exempted from searching for love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grateful for Catastrophes...

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

...that Never Happened

Finishing *The Septembers of Shiraz* this morning, and seeing "Inglourious Basterds" last night, I think about survival and how easy mine has been relative to, say, that of Iranian Jews in post-Shah Iran or French Jews in Nazi-occupied France.

"Why, on a gorgeous, pure-vacation day am I wanting to think about catastrophes that never happened?" This morning, shortly after waking up, I wrote this question in my journal.

For one thing, it makes me even more grateful for the relatively luscious life I lead, and for another, I have survivor's guilt.

In a previous blog-entry, I'm pretty certain I wrote about Sofia, a Russian woman I tutored in English in 1987, when I lived in Chicago. It struck me that if my grandparents on my dad's side and great-great-grandparents on my mom's side had not left Russia by 1917, I could have been in Sofia's place -- a new, U.S. immigrant from Russia, needing literacy help and all sorts of other aid as well, if my ancestors had remained in Russia and had made it through further pogroms and the Holocaust...and if I would have existed at all. We were the same age and though I did not yet have a good job, my prospects were far greater than hers when we worked together.

Iran and Spanish Harlem Circa 1982

The same there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I sensation comes to me about the Iranian story, which was written by an Iranian- Jewish woman, just seven years younger than I. And this I believe I've written about prior as well: In 1973, my dad was on the verge of taking a job to build a toy factory in Iran that would have required our family to move to Tehran. Thank God, it fell through. I recall looking at a picture of the shah in our encyclopedia, with his white military uniform and dark hair and mustache (salted a bit with white) and thinking how elegant my new leader looked.

Had we been there, just six years later, my dad might have been imprisoned when the shah fell, under suspicion of being a spy for Israel, simply because his parents and sister lived there. Spoiler Alert: At least, that's what happened to the father in the novel I just read, who simply had some relatives in Israel.

Now, as I think of it, in real-life, the author's father was imprisoned for a time, and they really did have to escape from Iran in 1982, but her luck was that to this day, she still had a father in real-life, whereas by November of 1982, my dad of blessed memory had died of bile-duct cancer at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Spanish Harlem. As a result, I've lived most of my life so far with just one parent.

Which was harder? Both were excruciating. I've read that kids who were separated from their well-meaning parents during the Holocaust would rather have remained with their parents and undergone whatever trauma doing so required than to have been separated from them, even if they were reunited over time.

France Circa 1944

To my knowledge, none of my relatives ever lived in France. I hadn't wanted to see "Inglourious Basterds," as I feared it would be somehow disrespectful, since in my experience with Quentin Tarantino's films, human-life is not all that sacred, but I really valued it, to my complete surprise.

Spoiler Alert for "Inglourious Basterds:" Most chilling of all was the monologue, where the "Jew Hunter" spoke of Jews as rats; I'm paraphrasing: "What is it about rats? I mean, they've never done anything to you, and yet you simply find them repulsive and you want to be rid of them."

Talking with my mom about it, before either of us saw it, but since we already knew the premise, my mother said, "Sarah, I've talked to survivors and the ones who got revenge were not made happier by it. It did not make them feel good." Sitting in the audience last night, Tarantino managed to make me feel blood-thirsty and ashamed all within seconds.

It was powerful how I, who've grown up, being taught that during the Holocaust, people had a choice and did not need to be an agent of Jews' destruction, found myself easily becoming part of a mob for the opposing side, i.e., I wanted to justify hurting Nazis for their inhumanity....Just as they did not see Jews as human, I wanted to see them as animals, too.

That's the thing about escalation: It makes me resort to my visceral version.

What a luxury that I get to conclude this entry and enjoy another warm, sunny, Maine-day. Wish my dad were here.