Friday, December 31, 2010
Never saw the country west of
Pennsylvania prior to Day One of
My Freshman year in Ann Arbor.
Do you also try to be reminded of
More familiar people, places et al
When you are in a strange environment?
State Street reminded me of a patch of
Downtown New Canaan -- just for a moment --
And that calmed me.
Where are you from? So many held up hands
Like Mittens and pointed to a spot with
Their other hand.
Benton Harbor...Birmingham...Bloomfield Hills...
No suburbs I'd ever heard of. What was I doing
Michigan was more foreign to me than Israel,
where I had a grandmother, aunt and many cousins.
Michigan squirrels had dark-orange-ish, not gray, fur.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
My former classmate and Phil Jones Dance partner and I have lunch this afternoon; at 12, we took lessons in preparation for many upcoming Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and for life. We were also at the University of Michigan at the same time, but I don't have much memory of that till he reminds me:
"The last time I saw you was in 1985, in the Fishbowl [the all-glass part of Mason Hall in Ann Arbor]. You seemed really uncomfortable; in fact, whenever I ran into you on campus you seemed uncomfortable, but that day, you were with some girls and one of them --"
"-- had a mullet?"
"Yes, and one's hair was multicolored."
"Well, the one with the mullet is a guy now." (Not sure he's heard me.) "Really. He was a guy back then, too; he's transgender, but hadn't yet transitioned and I didn't know then, but yeah, that was really awkward, seeing you then."
He nods acknowledgment and then says, "You know, if you hadn't acted so odd, I'd have never guessed about you, but since you did, I realized [that you were a lesbian], and thought, She probably doesn't want her mom to know, and I never told a soul."
"Well, you were who I was supposed to want -- you, a good-looking, smart, nice, tall, Jewish man and so of course, I felt awkward."
He's flattered, but what is there to say in response?
Our Dads (z"l)
Both of them died at 56, of the identical, rare cancer. We agree that we became adults overnight at the time. His dad (z"l) died in '88, when he was 22 and mine (z"l), in '82, when I was 17 -- right around the same time of year, within two weeks of each other. I sit there, feeling jealous and competitive; at least his dad saw him graduate from high school and college.
He is a gentleman, a mensch.
I have yet to regret getting together with anyone from my Stamford past.
This lunch, plus Teena Marie's passing earlier this week, are making me feel tons of pre-teen and adolescent memories. I'd rather feel my feelings than ignore them, I guess. How can I channel them for further good, though?
Monday, December 27, 2010
Need to Photograph, Scan & Post My Roller Skates in Tribute
Teena Marie, who died at only 54 last night, was among the best musical reasons to go on when I was a teenager.
Her music was the soundtrack for so much of my rollerskating, and then rollerblading, solo-sessions from 13-27. Moving to her music on or off my skates, she made me feel romantic, joyful, soulful, even beautiful, and in good company....If she could sing this great music that played mostly on "urban contemporary," i.e., Black radio stations, then it also made sense that I, a Jewish girl in the suburbs, loved listening to it.
This feels like when Aaliyah died, since I love both of their voices, but Teena Marie's death reminds me that my adolescence definitely has passed.
The thing about cats is that they don't comfort their human parents reliably the way that dogs are famous for doing. I'm just lucky that it's warm behind the computer and Phoebe's little face is facing me while I grieve and write and listen to a YouTube Teena Marie playlist in parallel.
In tribute, I'll re-post a Facebook note I responded to here:
My Life as Teena Marie Song-titles
by Sarah Siegel on Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 9:35am
"Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like (or think will actually do this) and tag me. Try not to repeat a song title. It's harder than you think."
Your Artist: Teena Marie
Are you male or female: If I Were a Bell
Describe yourself: Ooh Wee
How do you feel about yourself: Still in Love
Describe where you currently live: Out on a Limb
The first thing you think of when you wake up: It Must Be Magic
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Behind the Groove
Your favorite form of transportation: Don't Look Back
Your best friend is: You're All the Boogie I Need
Your favorite color is: Midnight Magnet
What's the weather like: 14K
If your life were a TV show, what would it be called: Ooo La La La
What is life to you: Squarebiz
What is the best advice you have to give: Work It
If you could change your name, what would it be: A Rose by Any Other Name
Your favorite food is: I Need Your Lovin'
How I would like to die: Just Us Two
My soul's present condition: Jammin'
The faults I can bear: Young Love
How would you describe your love life: Since Day One
What are you going to post this as: My Life as Teena Marie Song-titles
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Cannot Reminisce Tiresomely; Rather, Must Give Them What They Need
Here I was at 21, appearing in my college yearbook. I wanted to look sporty and pretty at once. No more wearing feminine stuff just to fit in. I wore a navy-blue Michigan hoody sweatshirt over a turquoise, tropical shirt and completed the look with a doubled strand of translucent, plastic, magenta beads 'cause for the first time ever, no one was there to suggest an outfit for my yearbook picture; as someone who had just finally opened up publicly about my sexual orientation during senior year, unwittingly, yet apparently, I was going for a butch-femme blend....Well, I can reminisce tiresomely here, but not at the oSTEM at U of M session.
oSTEM stands for Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (as in, out about one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity). How did *I* a Comparative Literature major come to be speaking to such a student group about six weeks from now? How did I come to be working for technology companies for 20+ years, practically my entire career so far? In my experience, like with learning, the most interesting outcomes in life tend to be incidental.
Meandering through my undergrad years, I had no idea what my career would be; I knew just that I wished it could include writing and that I could make good money at it. Since I didn't have the particular talent for screenwriting or blockbuster-best-seller writing, good money and writing struck me as mutually exclusive...till an ex-girlfriend -- she was a current girlfriend at the time -- introduced me to the tech. writing profession. And that's how I got my start....
What I want to ask the undergrads who attend my session
- On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being most integrated, how integrated do you already feel your personal and professional identities are?
- Have you met the love of your life here at Michigan, or while in college?
- Are you out to your family?
- Have you studied abroad? If so, where?
- Are you open to going on an international assignment for your job?
- What does your research or word of mouth tell you are the LGBT-friendliest companies or organizations to work for?
- Do you see your sexual orientation or gender identity & expression as a potential barrier to realizing your deepest ambition? Why or why not?
- Are you open about your sexual orientation at your internship or current part-time job if you have one?
- Do you plan to be out about your identity from Day One on your post-graduation job?
- What does success look like to you?
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Boy? Man? Guy.
First, I wouldn't want to be called a boy. Second...how do novelists do it? I'm having a failure of imagination. I can picture only what I *was* like, as a 17-year-old girl:
I was amorous and lonely; grief-stricken at my dad's death on November 1st of my senior year; and an active dancer among my friends at high school dances. Fortunately, we went as a group and danced as a group.
At 17, I had a girlfriend and a boyfriend and the boyfriend did not know about the girlfriend, but the girlfriend -- and my mother -- knew about both. A tumultuous existence. I felt money-strapped and privileged; and smart finally, but half-hearted about school once my dad died. I was anxious about which college(s) would accept me, or not, and wanted to be out of the house without knowing how challenging that would be, having lived there for a solid 18 years.
I was furtive and gregarious. Kind and fake. Prudish publicly and hyper-sexual privately. Active with skiing and with eating as much candy and junk as I could bare, and more. Luckily, my metabolism is so fast that I didn't need to vomit. "Don't drink. Don't smoke. What do you do?" From an Adam Ant song that was popular then....
I wanted love and security and to be a star, but of what, I wasn't sure. All of this occurs to me as I get ready to spend the afternoon in Manhattan with my 17-year-old nephew Zach.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Re-posted from the GLBT IBMers & Friends Community Behind IBM's Firewall
I almost didn't go. Ultimately, I became convinced to show up by reminding myself how much I had enjoyed every other event I'd ever been to that had been hosted by Thinking Out Loud, a lesbian professional group that had been started by some great women at Ernst & Young in New York City.
December 15th, all day, was a busy time at work -- when isn't it? -- and yet I deserved the gift of seeing the group; I'd had a work-meeting conflict with the prior event this past spring and wanted not to miss another one. The invitation went, "Being near the holidays, we thought it timely to talk about women and our role as LGBT leaders in giving back. Our guests to lead the conversation will be Ellen Glazerman, who heads EY’s foundation, and Jane Canner, president of non-profit, Classroom Inc."
Maybe all of you are super-open about your philanthropic inclinations, but historically, I've only told if asked, and hardly anyone has ever asked.
There was a smaller crowd than usual, perhaps due to the bitter cold, or the less central location this time, or that others felt similarly shy about discussing how they gave philanthropically, but in any case, 10 of us introduced ourselves, including:
* For which firm we worked
* To which GLBT organizations we contributed.
Nine other women listened to, or at least witnessed, my list: "[In terms of the GLBT Community,] I give to NCLR [the National Center for Lesbian Rights] through United Way, and we give to Lambda Legal and to our GLBT synagogue, Beit Simchat Torah, and that's it." (We give the token donation here or there, when asked, e.g., to AIDS rides, but I was referring to Pat's and my mutually-designated organizations.)
Ellen Glazerman of EY quoted the Institute for Gay & Lesbian Strategic Studies and a Harris Poll, saying, "Gay donors tend to give 2.5% of personal income..." compared with "...the general population, which tends to give 2.2%...." GLBT people give it, she continued, as follows: 25% to GLBT issues; 23% to political party/candidate; 22% say it's important to give to politicians who support us.
She also told us that a Denver-based research organization, Ordinary Magic, stated, "20% of lesbians surveyed said they didn't give because they weren't asked..." and that openly-lesbian and openly-gay people give more than those who are not out.
IBM, like most firms, I'd guess, has a no solicitation policy, and this blog-entry [remember, this blog-entry is also sitting behind the IBM firewall, on an IBM server] is not a specific solicitation, certainly. It's more so another coming out on my part.
Like sexual orientation, historically, money-topics have been a bit taboo, depending on the people you're with and I guess I'm challenging the taboo with this entry.
Annually, for years, my IBM colleague, David Chase, has done the most constructive thing related to this charitable giving topic. He has informed U.S.-based IBMers of the GLBT organizations already on IBM's United Way list, and also has provided guidelines on how to apply to have a favorite GLBT organization added, if it is not already there.
After the session ended, I confessed to one of the participants that I almost didn't come because I was uncomfortable with talking about my charitable giving.
She was compassionate in response. Finally, I was glad I went because like with any truth-telling, I felt less heavy afterward.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
My Heroes & Sex Objects Lately
This morning, I woke up, feeling stirred by all three of these women, Portia de Rossi, Fran Lebowitz and Chely Wright -- moved, aroused, compassionate, reverent, coveting them and their talent. I find it much easier to write here on Jewish themes than on lesbian themes. Jewish themes, for me, are connected to my upbringing and family of origin and a well-established, relatively famous culture.
Lesbian themes often are connected to my desires and typically, feel too hot to touch publicly. Non-queer friends could argue, so are themes on sexuality of any sort. And that's true. That is, who am I to write about desire beyond a private journal? The facile, political response is that I want visibility for lesbians; I want us to have a voice, to have our humanity acknowledged -- I want people to understand that typically, lesbian identity includes a sexual component; we spend so much time, trying to get people to stop fixating only on the sexual aspect of homosexuality that I fear we silence it and ourselves. We want the "right" sort of positive attention.
The fully genuine answer is hinted at in a blog-entry from two years ago. I want to be as honest in my writing as Fran Lebowitz, Portia de Rossi and Chely Wright are in theirs. All of these women are intensely sexy to me because they are gifted artistically and vulnerable in their art, enabling me to relate to them; they are also visually appealing in very different ways. Fran Lebowitz is magnetic sartorially; Portia de Rossi has a gorgeous, warm smile and Chely Wright, a beautiful, soulful face.
Last night, my partner Pat and I watched "Public Speaking," the documentary on Fran Lebowitz. As much as I'm in awe of her wit, I don't want to take the advice of a writer who has said she suffers from "writer's blockade," when she says that not everyone should write -- that culture should not be a democracy, but rather, there's, "...a natural aristocracy of talent."
By contrast, a friend who's been published by "The New Yorker," once told me that she thinks everyone should be encouraged to write because really, what's the harm in it? They're not hurting anyone, sitting alone and writing. In that spirit, I maintain this blog.
Also, late last night, I finished reading Portia de Rossi's memoir. I had never seen her act till looking her up on YouTube this morning. She's good.
Likewise, I had never seen Chely Wright sing till her memoir and she came out. I've always favored R&B music, but I liked the songs I saw on YouTube and became a total fan while reading her story.
How I relate to each of these women:
Fran Lebowitz -- We're Jewish; took longer than we might have to become openly lesbian; felt out of place in formal school environments when we were young -- and she did permanently; grew up in the Tri-State (NY, NJ, CT) area; suffer on and off from writer's block; enjoy well-made clothes; are talkative; have no children.
Portia de Rossi -- We're tall (I'm 5'9.5" and she's 5'8"); she lost her father when she was young (younger than I; she was nine and I was 17); growing up, had romantic crushes on some of our best female friends; for comfort, turned to excess food -- in my case, from childhood through my 20s, though never was bulimic, since my metabolism still was so fast, didn't need to purge to ward off obesity; heard, and sometimes still hear, negative voices in my head about my appearance, even though objectively, I'm attractive -- in my case, I heard self-criticism on the size of my breasts and my androgyny; found love unexpectedly with a funny, kind woman who loves animals; have no children.
Chely Wright -- We're lesbians who realized our attraction to girls at a young age, she at nine, according to her memoir, and I at 11; we've felt we had to exile ourselves from our hometown and home region for a period, living in regions that were totally remote from our experience; growing up, she did not know from NYC and I had not been west of Pennsylvania till college; have no children.
The magic of writing is that I can say what I would be too shy to say if I were making eye-contact with anyone; that's its chief appeal to me. These women are heroes because I need heroes. I tend to stand up visibly as my lesbian self in most situations, hoping I'm helping someone somewhere by my openness, and it's comforting to see other women who are willing, also, to be visible. Their visibility as much as their talent and looks makes them desirable to me.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Even I Don't Know Where This is Going
I just know that beginning last Saturday, I thought of the first two, established powerhouses, and two days ago, "The Science Times" reminded me of the potentially therapeutic power of virtual-world-based avatars. Maybe I'll make a connection among the three before this blog-entry is done. Suddenly, I have an image of the avatar versions of Shakespeare, Juliet and Joseph & his dreamcoat....
Last Saturday night, Dr. Eleanor Ehrenkranz got me thinking about shared themes in the Torah and Shakespeare's plays. Dr. Ehrenkranz was a featured teacher at a lecture series, which my mom invited my sisters and our families to attend with her on her birthday. The series had many lecture-topics to choose from, including, "E.T. Torah: What Does Judaism Say about Life on Other Planets? Do We Care?" but we could participate only in two of them, since they were concurrent, so we went to the ones my mom attended, namely the one on Shakespeare and a second one, "500 Years of Hiding: The Lives of the Secret Jews" by Dr. Andrée Aelion Brooks.
During Dr. Ehrenkranz's interactive lecture, if I remember correctly, she spoke of envy/jealousy as the world's most destructive emotion. Earlier in my M.A. pursuit, I blogged about envy, essentially agreeing with Dr. Ehrenkranz, especially in the written-comments-exchange I had with my classmate Zdravko, the object of my envy, following the blog-entry.
The morning after the lecture -- I got home after midnight -- I heard from my partner Pat, who had to miss the whole day, since she lay in bed with a crippling cold; she said, "Envy might be the most destructive outward emotion, but shame is the most destructive inward one." In other words, envy is the most destructive, and shame, the most self-destructive.
Here's where therapeutic avatars might come in:
If, for example, I could go through 3D simulations, where I could experience vivid envy or shame in the safety of a therapist's office while interacting with some 3D automated character, maybe I could experience less of both emotions in the real-world, or be better equipped to handle those emotions.
Here's another possibility that seems more remote at this stage, but I'm prompted to explore it due to a hallway conversation I had with one of the people I met at the lecture series: trying out being an adoptive parent by caring for an adopted baby automated character. Talking with Pat at breakfast this morning in Green Bay, where we have visited her family every Thanksgiving for the past 19 years, I mentioned the idea of a parenting simulation, saying, "If people got to try it out ahead of time, nobody would have children."
"I think some people would like it; some people really want to have babies, whether adopted or organically," Pat answered.
Just when I am feeling some peace around our having chosen not to adopt, since I was unable to conceive by natural means after 18 months of trying, and since Pat, being 15 years older than I was too old to conceive a child by the time we agreed to try to have children, I have the following exchange and get a bit stirred up again:
I'm talking to a new acquaintance about how our 17-year-old nephew enjoyed the lecture on Shakespeare and the Torah and about how one of our 12-year-old nephews enjoyed learning to bake challah in one of the sessions.
"What about your family?" she asks.
"Oh, I don't have any children. My partner is female and I tried for awhile [via anonymous donor], but it didn't work and we didn't want to adopt. I wanted a 'little me.'"
"[Can't recall precisely what she said to encourage me to re-consider adopting, but then simply,] You're a beautiful woman," she said as she turned and walked away and I touched her shoulder gratefully as she departed.
Here's where Shakespeare and shame and envy and the Torah come back in:
I'm left, standing there, feeling positively recognized among this huge sample of humanity -- the whole parking lot was packed for this event -- while also wondering later, the usual chip on my shoulder returning, Did she mean, "You're a beautiful woman; it's a shame you are a lesbian and didn't have children?" or am I projecting? And I'm also standing there, feeling envious of my mother and of her, for having daughters to kvell over while I simply have nephews and a niece for whom I can take nearly zero credit.
Oh, well, it's time for the dessert reception, following the lectures. I enter the busy room and see one of our 12-year-old nephews, Sam, sitting at the "Young Jewish Professionals" table with his plate piled high with cheesecake and cookies. He is a skateboarder and drummer, and likely will burn off the calories of this plateful soon enough -- not that that's on his mind as a 12-year-old boy.
"Are you a young, Jewish professional?" I ask, crouching by his chair, not wanting to take another seat from the earnest, mostly appealing people seated across from us.
"I did a rap at my concert," he answers.
"Oh, great. I thought you were just playing the drums. Take me over to a corner of this room and do it for me."
Sam gets up instantly, abandoning the heaping plateful, and leads me to the quietest pocket of the room he can find. He begins. It's an onslaught of crazy-rhyming and I'm impressed at his memory-retention.
Kids used to memorize Shakespeare and recite patches of his plays; in fact, my mom's dad, who did not get to go to school beyond the 6th grade (a year behind the grade Sam and his twin-brother Max are in now) had sent my mom and her sister to Shakespeare lessons when they were girls.
Who knows? Maybe I'll be like Sarah in the Torah and have a child years from now. I wonder what kids will be reciting by then.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Why the Crowds Didn't Love a "Parade"
Yesterday, Pat and I saw the astonishingly moving James Earl Jones in "Driving Miss Daisy." Who doesn't love a play that exposes stereotypes, letting the audience laugh along while seducing it into seeing how wrong they are? Who doesn't love a late-in-life, unlikely, beautiful friendship? According to the article linked to from Alfred Uhry's name below, Miss Daisy and the driver were inspired by Uhry's grandmother and her driver.
While raking leaves this morning, I told Pat that I thought Alfred Uhry's masterpiece so far was "Parade," which closed quickly, even though it won six Drama Desk Awards and two Tony Awards.
It demanded so much more from its audience than "Driving Miss Daisy." Based on the true story of the lynching of Leo Frank, it demo'ed a hierarchy of prejudices, at least regarding this particular case: In 1914 -- less than 50 years after the end of the Civil War -- apparently, it was worse to be a Northern Jew than a Southern, Black ex-convict.
Among the reasons to love Uhry is his fairness in parallel with his artistry: In "Driving Miss Daisy," Uhry doesn't let Daisy get away with kvetching about her childhood poverty to her driver and friend Hoke, who is Black. More than once, he reminds her, "But you doin' all right now," [compared with his family, all of whom grew up poor and could not rise in society due to their skin-color]. Likewise, in "Parade," Uhry has a number of the Black cast-members wonder aloud if there would have been so much visibility for the Leo Frank case if it had "just" been another Black man lynched, rather than a White man.
Turns out that Alfred Uhry's great-uncle owned the pencil factory that Leo Frank ran. And Uhry's grandmother was friends with the Frank family.
In both plays, Uhry, who is Jewish and who grew up in the South, does something else interesting: He has Northern and Southern Jews, expressing their alienation from one another; in "Driving Miss Daisy," in the '60s, Daisy's son's competition is a printing company run by "...a New York Jew." The son is concerned that clients could view his competitor as smarter than he, since "New York Jews" are smarter than Southern Jews, he says.
In "Parade," Uhry has Leo Frank, a New York Jew, expressing his culture shock at being in Atlanta, "How Can I Call This Home?" He sings that he's realized there's more to being Southern than simply living in the South. All of this just reminds me that there is no monolithic American, or Jewish-American culture...and I recall while living in India in 2007, being told that Northern Indians are different from Southern Indians. There are endless nuances and stark contrasts within cultures.
Culture, Friendship and Congregations Prevail
This weekend, I'm also reminded of the imminent opening of the new National Museum of American Jewish History, which I hope includes references to Uhry's plays. And I'm reminded of my Southern, Jewish friend, Robert Kingoff (z"l).
Robert and his family hailed from Wilmington, North Carolina and as I've written here before, the first and last time I had fried chicken for Shabbat dinner was at Robert's parents' house; chicken is a traditional entree in Jewish homes on Friday night, but frying it seemed to be a Southern touch. I miss Robert, who taught me about Southern, Gay, Jewish culture; he was taken by AIDS at 28, back when so many dear men were. I lost Robert, yet he remains with me.
More than two decades ago, on Robert's 25th birthday, he took us to see a favorite pop star, Grace Jones. I can't recall if she sang "La Vie En Rose", but life was rosy whenever Robert was around. He made me laugh and feel so much lighter during my early-20s, when I was sure of so little.
We weren't Miss Daisy and Hoke, but still, we were also perfect if unlikely friends brought together by necessary circumstances, i.e., both of us needed a way to celebrate Shabbat, where we felt most at home, which was at Or Chadash, Chicago's LGBT synagogue (which is also where I later met my beloved, Pat). Robert was in Chicago for law school and I was there because I wasn't yet ready to be myself in all my humanity back in metro-New York, where I had grown up.
We became family for each other, Robert and I -- a Southern, Gay Jew, and a Northern, Jewish lesbian -- super-tight and unexpected.
Unlike Miss Daisy's temple, our synagogue was not bombed, though Robert didn't live to hear the news several weeks ago of Or Chadash as a target of an explosive package.
Earlier this weekend, I tweeted, "The unlikely friendship of Miss Daisy & the driver reminds me to be grateful for the likely & surprising friendships I've made so far."
My unlikely Canadian friend and likely colleague Bernie asked in response, "Are you the driver or the passenger?"
"Both," I'd answer, as were they, and as are all friends and family.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
We're not Christians and
My Dad's (z"l) death was not graceful.
That's not what is meant by All Saints Day,
But I'm taking poetic license.
Rather, 28 years ago, having declared
To my mom about his daughters:
"Where are the girls? I'm ready to go,"
He plunged into a coma and rattled his final breath
At 11:20ish pm on November 1st.
My friend Lynn's mom of blessed memory died this week
And I made a shiva call last night.
This morning, the symbolism of Lynn's vivid green blouse
Struck me and made me smile.
Lynn's dad, all in gray, sat like a solid mountain of grief
Friends and family, surrounding his foothills.
What did it mean, my being struck by the attractiveness of Lynn,
Her husband, brothers, son, niece and nephew?
Life pushes through, I guess, and I became alert to all of the life
Left behind by Lynn's mom (z"l), who was gorgeous, too.
Lynn is an artist and so was her mother. Lynn's mother (z"l) left a legacy of
My dad (z"l) left a legacy of...God, it was 28 years ago -- so what's still left,
and what's blisteringly fresh about his passing? My dad (z"l), an industrial designer,
who invented games and toys for a living, left a legacy of
Friday, October 22, 2010
I didn't have pets, growing up. I didn't have children. Now, I have both, in the form of two American Tabbies.
And one of them is ill. Mentally.
The vet said we had four options if they didn't behave when we got them home:
- Put them in his cat-condo for 12 hours and see if they re-bond
- Give Toonces anti-anxiety medication, squirting it in her mouth daily
- Keep the cats in separate parts of the house
- "Adopt out" Toonces.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Note: Writing this made me realize: a) I enjoy many elements of my dream-job today; b) My favorite medium for work is all sorts of media.
Re-posted from My Entry on One HCM Global Community, LinkedIn
"a) an interest or passion that, when you engaged in it, makes you feel as though you are "living more fully than during the rest of life."
My most vivid life includes swimming, writing, laughing, rollerblading to late-70s-80s Disco; incidental and continuous learning; demonstrating my humanity and noticing others'; and being visible in a heroic role while encouraging would-be heroes to be visible. Specifically, I love interviewing heroes on camera; moderating live-event chats; hosting informal learning experiences that I've co-designed; being included in ad campaigns that advertise something I believe in; tweeting; blogging....
"b) a dream assignment, experience or learning program that your organization could craft for you that would cultivate this passion and harness it somehow for your organizations's greater good."
If time and money were immaterial, I would ask to be paid less to do only the dreamy parts of my current job solidly because in it already, I get to do everything I listed above other than the rollerblading and swimming, just not 100% of the time yet.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Reprinted from GLBT IBMers & Friends Community Blog Behind IBM's Firewall
How did I get from the dance-floor of Congregation Agudath Sholom's reception hall to becoming a lesbian "poster-child" for IBM? In response, I considered three photos from 1978, 2002 and 2010:
In the first, the girl towered over the Bar-Mitzvah boy; she was me at 13. The boy's younger sister, now married with kids, just like the boy is, shared the photo with me via Facebook last week. It arrived while I was participating in Out & Equal's Workplace Summit, where IBM won the Workplace Excellence Award. The boy was sweet, but the girl that his twin-brother danced with nearby was a classmate on whom I had a crush.
This past June, in a letter to my younger self, I described how it felt to be attending a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school while being consciously aware of my lesbianism from age 11 onward. Paradoxically, I think that my years at that school were what motivated me to help represent IBM's GLBT Community so visibly; at our 8th grade graduation ceremony, I recall our principal, giving each of us a copy of *Pirkei Avoth* (*Ethics of the Fathers*) and telling us that he knew we would be among the leaders of our communities -- he was referring to Jewish communities, but I think I must have subconsciously taken it as a call to community leadership altogether.
Ten years after realizing my lesbian identity, I came out explicitly to my family and gained community leadership skills while living in Chicago; I volunteered as a GLBTQ youth group advisor and also co-anchored "The 10% Show," which was produced by the Chicago bureau of the Gay Cable Network (which no longer exists, unfortunately). These experiences were tremendously confidence-building, and profound; the youth group enabled me to help youth feel better along the way about who they were, and to speed through some of the same angst I had had, growing up, and the cable TV show taught me that I was part of a rich culture. Till then, I'd really only been taught to see the richness of Jewish culture. It was my gay community experience in Chicago that sewed the seeds for the work I would do at IBM.
Fast-forward to 2002, when Joseph Bertolotti and I (center of the photo) were leading GLBT Business Development, the coolest startup I've been part of so far, and which I'm proud is more global and more successful than ever through Yvette Burton's, Andreas Citak's and Tony Tenicela's leadership today. This 2002 ad was U.S.-centric by design, as it ran only in U.S.-based GLBT magazines, e.g., "OUT" and "The Advocate." My rabbi, openly lesbian herself, and leading the world's largest congregation of GLBT Jews and our friends, held up a copy of the ad from the pulpit when it first came out and celebrated that it featured one of her congregants. This was the same period when I was trying to conceive a child through IUI and an anonymous donor; unfortunately, I did not succeed. The other Sarah, in the foreground, gave birth to a girl some months later -- she's visibly pregnant in the photo -- and Rahel, between the Sarah's, gave birth to twin-girls. Ultimately, Rahel left IBM because she was part of GBS and did not want to travel so much with young children; she took a job at a financial services client, with no travel. And Marcelo on the far-left retired, so time did march on.
By 2004, I had moved from the GLBT business development role to what would become IBM's Center for Learning and Development, and was facilitating leadership development programs for our first-line leaders and emerging leaders, and then for new execs and our leader of India/South Asia and his direct reports. Six years later, I look at myself and see someone, who is as spirited as my 13-year-old self, who's happily paired with a Jewish woman for the past 18+ years, and who's dedicated to mentoring colleagues in their leadership development; I see someone who should make my principal proud.
Finally, by 2010, we launched a new campaign and when Andreas invited people from the New York area (which is where our ad agency is) to be photographed for the ad, I made sure to participate. I was talking with some new friends at Out & Equal, being self-effacing about my choice to model again for a GLBT-specific campaign; "Oh, it's only because I live in the NY-area, and maybe I like attention and..." but one of the friends challenged my vanity-explanation. She made me admit aloud that no, it's not only attention-seeking that drives me to pose for our ads; it really is a wish to raise our community's visibility. And I guess my rabbi, if not my principal in his Orthodoxy, recognized the act as a form of community leadership.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Bon Vie & Mr. Lonely
Too many beautiful women, too little exercise, too much humanity, not enough. My finger-nails need attention; sleep is calling. So is packing.
Missing Chely Wright 'cause I didn't plan it right. I'll be boarding my plane as she stands before everyone else at the convention center.
Logo'ed lanyards, free lip-balm as a promo, if only I'd known and not bought it from the hotel gift-shop.
New friend, who's fluent in Thai....I experimented today and wore a tie; got everything from, "You look beautiful," to "Hi, Gorgeous! Are you turning transgender?"
Should have responded, "Aren't we all?" Instead: "Who knows, and if I can't wear this here, where can I?"
Learned the most about myself when opting to enter the gender-neutral bathroom for the first time at the conference and being reminded of the first time I entered a lesbian bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Who saw me?
Only this time, do they think I'm trans? Instant shame about worrying what they thought.
Such a contrast to the Facebook note I received earlier tonight from the little sister of a junior-high-school classmate, David. She posted a photo of me, dancing with David at his twin brother's and his bar mitzvah.
Really was hoping to dance tonight with my people. Shake off that struggling new teenage self -- and also, embrace the essential sweetness of who I was then.
Instead, ended the night, feeling desirous and thwarted and ashamed and sad and wistful and unfinished and off-kilter and not powerful like I did during the day, when I wore my dad's (z"l) tie.
Who wants to go for a drink? Not me. I wanted to go dancing.
Only, I wanted it to be like it was in Austin -- dancing right outside the banquet hall -- no special effort required. And then there wasn't convenient dancing, and it was anti-climactic, big-time.
I am touch-starved and can't wait to pet Pat and the kitties. I'm very lonesome.
Played Bobby Vinton's "Mister Lonely" on YouTube, and then to get in a better mood, T.S. Monk, Jr.'s "Bon Vie." What a marvelous song!
Why can't I recapture the pretty pure joy I felt, listening to that song when I was 15? God, please let me get over my essential sense of loneliness. Now, I'm listening to "Sarah, Sarah," by Jonathan Butler. This is pure self-absorption. So what?
I'm really nostalgic for who I didn't become. Met people at this conference who were involved with a woman with whom I was involved 15 years prior. Met a researcher, who recognized the name of the only boyfriend I ever had. They research similar cancer-things. Another former administrator from his school, who knew him, too. Now, she's an IBM colleague.
The world really is strangely connected. Women flirted with me when I wore the tie today. I wish I could feel that powerful all the time.
The world responds to me and I love it and have a hard time, taking it in.
If only I could just feel peaceful. I don't want to want so much.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Patience-Prayer As Poem
Freudian slip: Typed the title of this poem
First: "Patience-Prayer As Power"
Patience would be my greatest power now
Powerful patience: What would that look like?
Raising my brows as high as they go to
Release the furrow
Feeling magic enough at the prospect of a
Small contribution, paradoxically making
A big impact
As Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us: A butterfly
Flaps its wings in South America and a
Hurricane -- or was it a tornado -- is
Unleashed faraway, elsewhere in the world
Yosef Goldman, one of our rabbinical interns,
Reminds us that two strangers can sit in a
Doorway of a city-street, listening to
Bethoven's Ninth on a boom-box and cry
If I can just be present, just be patient, I
Can be a conscious butterfly, but
Flapping my wings for good, not destruction
And a listening, crying, connected human.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Tossing Away My 5770 Wrongdoings
It is now 5771, according to the Hebrew Calendar. That means that 5,771 years ago, God created humanity, according to Jewish tradition. Obviously, humanity's a lot older than that, but I still like the idea of a birthday for the world that fits a time-frame that's well within the realm of my imagination.
I want so badly to keep this blog entry pure and free of references to September 11th, 2001, but as I write, it's in my head in parallel with what I want to write about, so I'll just acknowledge that it's nine years on; and it was the closest I ever came to being in a war-zone, since I was in Manhattan that day; and it's a gorgeous day so far, just like it was then; and otherwise today, I'll be going about the business of getting my hair cut and having lunch with my mom, then coming home and doing some work.
What I Want to Write About:
It's the end of dusk on the sunny-cloudy-sunny first day of Rosh Hashanah and I'm standing on a bridge, tossing seven stones into a small river because we have no bread with us. It's not the Mianus River; it's more of a huge creek, just north of Exit 35 of the Merritt Parkway, diagonally across from Wire Mill Road, just off of High Ridge Road in Stamford, Connecticut, the town where I was born and raised.
I'm doing Tashlich for two, as my nearly-85-year-old mom's unable to walk the relatively short distance to get to the river-creek. "How many sins do you want me to get rid of, Mom?"
"Three," she says after a pause.
My Rosh Hashanah outfit this year is green and brown and practically, I blend into the woods as I bend over to pick up the stones. I'm amazed at the memory of 40+ years ago that sketches itself over top of the current scene; it erases the foot-bridge I'm standing on, adds more dragon-flies than the one I see and includes dappled sunshine and a mother my age, watching her three daughters, splashing among the rock-bedded, shallow ripples.
We called it the swimming hole then, though the water wasn't really deep enough for swimming, and it was an adventure just a few miles south of our High Ridge Road house, which my mom treated us to in summer-times.
Now, I'm standing on a cement and metal bridge over it, tossing three stones in a row for my mom and then several for me: For not spending enough time with Pat, my family and friends -- one stone (Pat just came to say hi and I told her I'm trying to blog; oy!); for being impatient with my mother and any of her extra needs as she's getting older; for being impatient with myself for not being able to do as much as I think I ought to on any given day; for being self-absorbed.
I return to the car and tell my mom that other than the bridge and time of day, the swimming hole looks like it did when we used to splash there.
I drive my mom back to the High Ridge Road house, where I grew up and where she still lives, and feel the loving opposite of impatient.
God, please let me be that way at lunch today, too, and let me have a more patient 5771 altogether. Amen.
Monday, September 6, 2010
The Textbook Title: Human Resource Development...
[Re-posting from the internal Teachers College online system for my cohort, for whatever it's worth:]
This was a good chapter-trio, since chapters 11 and 12 talk about adult learners' characteristics, needs, learning styles and motivations and chapter 13, "Reflective Practice," speaks directly to us as practitioners, reminding us that being reflective of what we do in our practice is essential, just as encouraging the learners to be reflective is key to an optimal learning experience.
Perhaps I've said this in other adult learning courses, but as a learner myself, I've found that the incidental learning I've done (referred to on p. 202 as the unintentional part of Informal Learning) always has felt the most profound and memorable to me compared with the planned curriculum. As an adult educator, it could demoralize me if I thought that that was generally true, that the learning I designed was less effective than the learning they did by accident while enrolled in one of my interventions...however, chapter 13 (p. 241) redeems my mood:
If I design reflection into my interventions, then the learners might feel like it's incidental learning, but really, I know they'd not necessarily have had that learning if I hadn't set the stage for it.
On p. 240 of chapter 13, Wilson writes, "Most of the time, most practitioners do not question what they do." It's true that I was ready to barrel along and design a 60-minute Social Learning Enablement Workshop by pure intuition...well, and a theory based on historical observation of the learners, but had not really thought too hard about honing the learning objectives, creating a needs analysis and assessment, nor per se about the Learning Combination Lock model's elements on p. 207.
Now, since I'm conscious of the need to do all of that, thanks to the reading, I'm reflecting *pre*-action that I need to be aware of how adults will resist learning anything that threatens their identity (p. 211). Also, they will struggle, even if motivated to learn, if they feel it's beyond them -- of all things, a technophobia example was cited in that context (p. 213); I will try to counter the struggle and encourage the motivation through a Humanist approach of "...warmth, care and understanding (p. 213)
Now, too, I recognize that I'm facilitating their gain of domain-specific skills, including Cognitive and Psychomotors skills from Bloom's taxonony...and I know from having done a Honey-Mumford-produced self-assessment at work several years ago, my natural learning-style bias will be toward Activist-Theorist (p. 216), so I'll need to see if I can stretch and design elements that will also appeal to learners with Pragmatist and Reflector styles.
The Textbook Title: Human Resource Development...
[Re-posting from the internal Teachers College online system for my cohort, for whatever it's worth:]
All semester, I will relate the readings to my own job experience wherever possible, since I work for a corporation.
The three chapters were useful as an intro to the course because they position HR developers as change agents (Wilson, 2008, p. 57); the needed linkage between business strategy and HRD (Wilson, 2008, pp. 83-84); and refer to the learning organization as "...a process rather than a state," which reminds me of how business strategy works, too; it is never static (Wilson, 2008, p. 101).
Change management drives both learning organizations' directions and strategic direction, so it's a fitting first chapter of the trio, and I appreciate Burnes' comprehensive model, as up until this year at my employer, IBM, we'd been facilitating John Kotter's change model in our leadership development learning offerings. The most interesting part of the model to me was his distinction between Information and Communitcation (Wilson, 2008, p. 51).
I was also happy to read about PWC's Change Integration Team as foundational (Wilson, 2008, p. 46) because IBM's now moved to that Change Integration Team's concept of Better Change.
Finally, I saw a connection between the Theories E & O (Wilson, 2008, p. 47) and the potential tensions that a learning organization model could cause: While a company's top management might think that it was promoting Theory O by encouraging informal learning and communities of practice, a number of employees could interpret it as Theory E. This possibility came to me as I read the chapters: A company might be so proud of itself for encouraging grass-roots, peer-to-peer learning, thinking it was being progressive and empowering employees/promoting autonomy while a number of employees might interpret the encouragement as a cost-cutting tactic, e.g., fewer formal learning programs (which cost the company money to develop and run), and more informal opportunities, which cost the company no additional money beyond employees' salaries.
P.S. I just re-read the final paragraph and want to mention that I'm an agent of online social learning among peers and see it as a sign of Theory O, but I know a number of people across a number of companies who focus on the cost piece and are a bit bitter as a result, i.e., they think their employer is being cheap, rather than that their employer is promoting innovation and autonomy.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Where Is Debbie Today?
At my friend's half-way-to-90 birthday party last night, she reminded me of a boy we had known in high school who was so gorgeous, such a player, so skilled at flirting, he moved even *me*. Now, he also had a beautiful sister, Debbie, but she never flirted with me.
As the birthday-girl reminisced about a magical boat-ride she once got to take with him and a guy friend, I thought of the boy's sister and wondered whatever happened to her. This morning, I was still wondering, so I googled her name and found that if any of the women listed is her, then she could be a:
- "Professional actor & voiceover artist"
- Co-owner of a winery
- Computer graphic artist....
Better to live in the present, but still, it's fun to have a number of friends who have shared memories of high school.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
A Year Or More
"Did you receive your 'Dear John' letter, Sarah?" Lou asks as we pass each other the other day in the Clifton YMHA.
"Not yet, but maybe I missed it."
This is the third reference of the morning to the Y's potential closing. Lou is 87 and cannot hear well at all, so he mostly just talks and then smiles in response to my answers and keeps going. "Well, you should get it in the mail soon. I like your hair that way!" (My hair is styled only by a vigorous, post-shampoo towel-rubbing. Lou is a big flirt. He always makes my day.)
As I walk in, I see one of the early-bird s who's already done with her laps; she tells me, "We have one more year and then it's either going to be sold to people for the property, or to the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and in either case, we won't be able to swim here anymore."
"How do you know that?"
"I have a friend in the [Jewish] Federation [the organization that will raise the funds or sell it]."
Going in to the pool, I see my 80ish-year-old friend, who says, "Are you going to go to L.A. Fitness when this pool closes?"
"No, I want to go to a Jewish place again, I said, "How about you?"
She shrugs, and then, "The Paramus JCC is probably the nearest one besides Clifton."
I feel so sad, having this conversation with my friend. I don't want the pool to close and I don't want this community of swimmers to scatter. Pat & I've been swimming there for five years.
In five years, I've met a Holocaust survivor, an Italian great-grandmother, a contemporary lane-hog, who's half my size, but who takes a lane and a half, a guy in his late-60s who likes to swim with snorkeling gear and another lesbian couple who also were able to join as a couple, among others.
I hope the pool stays open. Change is hard.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Now, Pat is tied with my mother as the person with whom I have lived the longest in my life. I find myself making deals with my mom that I hope she can keep, and being reminded of that song I've written about here before, from "Into the Woods:" "No One is Alone:"
No one is alone. Truly.I don't want my mom, or Pat, leaving me, "...halfway through the wood" the way my dad of blessed memory had to do so due to cancer. Actually, my dad (z"l) left me less than half-way through the wood.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what's good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.
This morning, I find myself, saying to my mom: "Let's both go swimming in the Teachers College pool just before I graduate," which will be more than a year from now. This November, God willing, my mom will turn 85. She has lived longer without my dad than with him. they were married for 27 years when he died, and she's been without him for 30 years.
Funny how I bargained with myself at the start of this vacation that I wanted to stay in the present and enjoy every drop of the vacation...but something about having time off to think is making me reflective about how much time any of my loved ones (and I) have left, and it's making me think existentially, not just about this week vs. the rest of my work-year.
Today, I pray that Pat and I will live for long enough to:
- Marry legally, ideally while our mothers are still alive
- Travel through Israel and Ireland while we're still able-bodied
- Pay off our mortgage (which should be done in less than eight years)
- Earn more leisure-time together.
- Be at Pat's and my wedding
- Swim together in the TC pool just prior to my graduation
- See me march for my Master's in Adult Learning and Leadership.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Not Better or Worse, Just Different
If you'd have asked for my definition of "augmented reality" (AR) before I became aware of the technical definition, I'd have replied, "My reality is augmented by family -- including pets -- and friends who love me; art to enjoy and produce; sensual pleasure; communities with which I affiliate; meaningful work, including substantial cultural exchanges; and the means to: give charity, buy healthy food, nice clothes, a lovely home, a comfortable car and gifts."
That definition still works, even as I was introduced to a different, technical definition of the term recently by a colleague and friend who invents AR apps: "...a layer of information on top of reality."
The same colleague pointed me to a link of an AR app demo, showing how IBM let Wimbledon attendees watch games through walls while waiting on line to get in. I told another colleague, who's proudly anti-Web 2.0, about how IBM has created an AR version of Madison Square Park in NYC, so that he could point his smart-phone at the Flatiron Building to learn about it.
He said, "Now *that* would interest me." For him, it would be like turning the world into a museum with exhibit labels.
A relative who's an artist wondered if AR was such a good idea. She, who is a talented photographer as well as painter, said, "I've stopped taking my camera everywhere I go because I was feeling less present with it."
"It's true that this could make us feel more removed from reality than a part of it," I responded. I've been thinking further, though:
The dark side could be isolation and also another dimension of the societal division of the haves and have-nots. The up-side could be cultural enrichment and fun, as well as performance aids, if not full-blown, profound learning, plus universal access over time, i.e., no haves/have-nots.
One of the constant tensions of technology, I think, is that it can remove us from what's traditionally seen as organic/natural *and* it can expand our vista a million-fold, e.g., cars remove us from nature, and from people...and cars enable us to see and enjoy more/other people/nature than we could on our own arms-and-legs power.
Recently, a Group Dynamics classmate in the School Psychology program was complaining about how a number of us from the Adult Learning and Leadership and Org. Psych. programs had amazing access to global resources -- people and technological -- while in his experience, he was lucky to get a desk at work.
It struck me: A) I knew from his Facebook page that he went to one of the most privileged of he Ivy League schools for undergrad, and so perhaps, he was mourning the loss of his prior, routine sense of privilege and B) certainly seemed to use social media outside of work, and so I didn't know why he was complaining. He chose a line of work, where by design, it's all local and nearly all face-to-face.
To me, AR will always consist of the definition I gave above, but my friend's technical definition is intriguing, too. I don't think her AR definition is better or worse than plain-old reality; it's just different. I think that people who feel isolated don't need help from the Internet; they're likely that way offline, too...and at a minimum, AR could make their natural isolation more interesting, and help them feel more connected in other ways.
Personally, I'm an extrovert and yet have also written here about having an unusually large sense of loneliness, no matter how many people appreciate me. For someone like me, ultimately, the technical version of augmented reality seems like a way to help me feel more connected to the world and other people, for example, I'm the sort of person who would likely exclaim aloud, "Wow!" if I saw something cool as a result of AR, and would need to share what I learned with whoever was in closest proximity; for me, AR would likely serve as a conversation starter, i.e., a device for connecting with others.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Not an Oxymoron
Who has time to let relationships unfold? Who feels safe, doing that? Not me.
Ever since I began facilitating programs for new executives, new managers and emerging leaders at work, and ever since I enrolled in grad school, I've been trying to learn what I could about the participants and my classmates prior to meeting them face to face for the first time.
With the participants, it was a matter of looking up their behind-the-firewall, online profile, to see their role and any of their activity with internal online communities. With classmates, it was about looking them up on Facebook, to see whatever I could, depending on their privacy settings.
Was I being prepared, or controlling? Curious, or anxious?
For the participants, I felt that I was doing extra preparation, to understand their business mission and role, and their degree of Web 2.0 adoption. With classmates, perhaps I was being a bit voyeuristic. But why? I told myself that it was my intense interest in connecting with other people that made me try to find things I had in common with them, or at least activities of theirs that interested me...but when I confessed what I do to my most recent cohort of classmates, I felt kinda creepy, and I think a number of them were a bit creeped out as well.
Do I have an extraordinary need to be known by, and to know, others? Or is this behavior of an irredeemable control-queen/king? I mean, by posting what some might consider my every thought on my blogs (IBM and public), Twitter and Facebook profiles, am I doing so in order not to be surprised by anyone's unexpected inquiry, to avoid feeling caught off-guard? If I tell you everything upfront, can we streamline our relationship? Or can we avoid a relationship altogether if what I tell you repels you?
Of course, what interests me most is your reaction to what I share, which most of the time, you do not tell me. For example, a colleague from a faraway country, who's also a friend on Facebook, was visiting my work-site the other day and told me, "I love your status messages. When you talk about going swimming, it reminds me that I need to get to the gym. I feel like I'm close with you, just by getting to see your daily updates...." If we had not seen each other, would she have ever told me that?
Or am I paradoxically private -- trying to manage what you think of me by serving up all sorts of my thoughts, to distract you from asking questions about features of me you don't yet know or understand, and which I might be too uncomfortable to answer?
Of course, the work I'm doing of letting myself be known and of exploring how others portray themselves is all an illusion of control, perhaps...but maybe not as much of an illusion as some might think, since, according to Jeffrey Rosen in "The Web Means the End of Forgetting:"
A recent study suggests that people on Facebook and other social-networking sites express their real personalities, despite the widely held assumption that people try online to express an enhanced or idealized impression of themselves. Samuel Gosling, the University of Texas, Austin, psychology professor who conducted the study, told the Facebook blog, “We found that judgments of people based on nothing but their Facebook profiles correlate pretty strongly with our measure of what that person is really like, and that measure consists of both how the profile owner sees him or herself and how that profile owner’s friends see the profile owner.”How much of my online activity is fear-based? Am I just the other side of the coin of the people, who avoid expressing themselves in online venues altogether?
By comparing the online profiles of college-aged people in the United States and Germany with their actual personalities and their idealized personalities, or how they wanted to see themselves, Gosling found that the online profiles conveyed “rather accurate images of the profile owners, either because people aren’t trying to look good or because they are trying and failing to pull it off.” (Personality impressions based on the online profiles were most accurate for extroverted people and least accurate for neurotic people, who cling tenaciously to an idealized self-image.)
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
My Brother-in-Law's Birthday Gift
Upfront note from Sarah: Well, I'm not yet an IBMer for life, though this July, including my time at Sears Technology Services and then the joint-venture of Sears and IBM, my IBM service counts for 20 years.
Also, I've not re-made IBM into a place, "...Where GLBTs want to go," I don't think; I've just helped it be an even more appealing place, along with many, many GLBT and GLBT-friendly colleagues.
My apologies in advance for any liberties I’ve taken in the name of humor. Particularly the second half of the third paragraph, and maybe the whole second paragraph. Know that I love you, and wish you all the best. Hope you smile, when you read this and throughout the day.
In North Jersey suburbs,
Where some spies reside.
I’ve a sister-in-law
Who’s got nothing to hide.
Sarah blogs about everything
under the sun.
She shares, over shares,
And maybe then some.
She swims like a fish,
And blades like a blader.
But breathes very quietly,
Not like Darth Vader.
An IBM lifer,
who woulda thunk it?
Yes, she’s taken some fresh
Big Blue cool aid and drunk it.
Sarah’s made over Watson’s
Big computer co,
To a fabulous place
Where GLBT’s want to go.
So open the windows,
yell “Proud to be Gay”
And let’s celebrate
Sarah Siegel’s Birthday.
Happy, Happy Birthday.
Your loving brother-in-law,
Saturday, June 26, 2010
GLBT Pride and More
This month's theme and celebration inspires me to list what I'm proud of:
- Pat and I have a positive, long-lasting relationship -- 18 years next month
- Two summers ago, I agreed to adopt sister-cats, Phoebe and Toonces, not having grown up with pets, and apparently, they love us and are happy in our home
- Our nephews and niece are fond of me
- My mother, sisters and I are close, and mostly, we let one another be ourselves
- My work and most recent schooling is dedicated to helping people learn
- I've earned a 4.0 so far, and am two-thirds of the way through a Master's program at Columbia University's Teachers College while working full time...when I didn't even believe I'd be admitted
- I am relatively athletic and fit
- I blog and am able to express myself openly
- Even if it's droll more often than I'd like, I have a good sense of humor
- You can count on my honesty
- I have color- and style-sense
- Healthy eating has been a 20-year commitment so far
- Even when my opinions or beliefs are not popular, typically, I speak up
- Creativity, enthusiasm and bravery fuel my sense of possibility, which leads to a willingness to experiment and take risks
- Pat and I have made a nice home together, which I enjoy living in and walking around.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Warning: Self-pity May Ensue
Now, there's a sub-heading to make anyone want to run from this blog, including me. I am sad. Lonely for my father. Nearly a decade ago, I found a book that helped a bit, but I just miss him.
Can't recall my father's voice anymore, not really. Am grateful still to have my mother. How marvelous that she could make it with her walker down the dock at 23rd Street in NYC yesterday and onto the boat for the "Rocks Off Concert Cruise;" how hilarious to watch her wildly-amused reaction to the teenage heavy metal band that preceded our nephews' under-12 rock band during a 3.5-hour boat-ride, and then her delight at her twin grandsons, playing electric guitar and drums to "Come Together" by the Beatles and more.
What would have been my dad's reaction? I think he'd have smiled non-stop. The boys -- especially Sam, the drummer -- are reminiscent of him...gorgeous blue eyes, tall, with big feet and big ears; genes are amazing. Today, their 17-year-old sister Zoe and they are celebrating Father's Day with my brother-in-law and sister Deb while our nephew Zach celebrates with my other brother-in-law and other sister. I'm not celebrating.
If only I'd married a man. If only we had been able to have children. If both if-only's had happened, I'd be serving or buying brunch somewhere and all of us would be presenting suitable gifts. Instead, I'm blogging. I know I'm not the only one who wonders what if about any number of life-scenarios, and I also know that everything happens for a reason. And I don't want to disrespect the extraordinarily great relationship that Pat and I have, but some days, like today, I ask myself why I had to have an uncommon sexual orientation.
Yes, I know, too: I could have married a man and still had no children. Or he could have died, or a million other variations. And now, as if on cue -- though I know cats are not supposed to be empathetic like dogs -- one of our two cat-children Phoebe appears for pets and purring.
What would have been my dad's future if he had lived beyond 56? That's just 11 years from now for me, God willing, and I can't imagine being cut off that soon.
Would he have had one more great invention in him? Would he have adapted his game-designing skills to creating online games? Would his health have declined in some other way or would he have heeded some wake-up call and become fit? Would we have roller-bladed together, since he was a skilled roller-skater from childhood? Would he have kept singing Adir Hu his way at the Passover Seder every year? Would he have fallen asleep, telling bed-time stories to his grandchildren, like he did with his children? Would we have become estranged over my sexual orientation or would he have risen to the occasion ultimately like my mother?
I have such a sense of regret in both directions this Father's Day. Though I knew of my lesbianism by age 11, I was afraid to enable an authentic relationship with my father before his death six years later by sharing my knowledge with him. And then the other regret at this moment is that I did not have any children. Yesterday, while we were on the boat for the boys' concert, I overheard my sister Kayla, reminding my mother of the view of the ships in the river she had while giving birth. "When I gave birth," she said....I was so wistful and envious at once, as I heard her speak. I am lacking that life-experience, plus what comes after of raising a child.
On most days, I'm confirmed that I'd rather not have the full experience of having and raising children than have it -- and at this point, it would be a matter of adoption, rather than an organic birth -- but on days like today, I am sad.
Also, we had dinner and swimming with a couple of friends last night and I watched their affection with the kids with some longing. And enjoyed the affection the kids generously lent to Pat and me, but it was still just a loan....
And then I also recall, hearing that they all woke up at 4:30 that morning, since one of the twins had had a nightmare, and I said to myself, Thank God I don't have all of that responsibility. Feeding the cats daily at 6 am is enough.
My celebration of Father's Day died with my dad (z"l) >27 years ago....Don't say I didn't warn you that this blog-entry would be self-pitying.
Just a final thought: Most of the time, I don't indulge in blogging in this tone, and I keep myself busy enough that I don't spend much time on this sadness in my mind either, but today, as a fatherless daughter on Father's Day, with no children to celebrate the day either, it actually feels refreshing simply to yield to my ambivalent grief.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Thank You, God, for Not Giving Me That Challenge, K'ayn Eyeen Harah
Last night during a walk beyond my neighborhood, I saw a little boy or little girl -- big curls, striped T-shirt, shorts, no more than six years old, running around in the family's driveway, playing catch with a big rubber ball, throwing it back and forth, perhaps, to her mother and grandmother. They spoke French and wouldn't return my smile and eye-contact. They were intent on one another.
As I walked by, I saw the child's left leg, glinting in the pre-twighlight sun. The leg was made up of silver-colored rods. Before I saw the child, running around with an artificial limb, just being a kid, I wondered whether I could muster the mood to take a walk....
On my walk, I listened to my mom tell me her sorrow at one of her dear friend's recent heart-attack. I've never before spoken on a cell-phone during exercise, but it was so beautiful out and I wanted to share what I was seeing with someone, since Pat wasn't with me.
A child with a metal leg; two octogenarians -- one with a damaged heart and the other, heart-broken over her friend's new infirmity; and me, in the middle, witnessing the:
- Eager beagle, running alongside, behind his picket-fence as I passed
- Pink-white rose-bush with enough blooms to bury my face in them without risking thorn-pricks
- Lithe, high-school girl who nearly smiled at me as she ran by, her blond hair darker on her neck with sweat
- Shiny, black, Saturn convertible, rounding the corner and piloted by a balding guy older than I, who seemed to enjoy the breeze through the hair he still had
- Hyperactive Pekingese dog straining at me on his leash and his lovely Indian female walker, younger than I, smiling broadly at me for smiling at the cute dog
- Professionally-maintained garden of the property next to the also-gorgeous garden maintained by the Master Gardener who lives in the home behind it -- one of Pat's friends
- Tiny grass-seed, shaped like thin rice, dotting new dirt on the little boulevard above our street
- Beautiful yard of our property, more visibly so as I approached it on foot than when I typically drove toward it, focused on entering the garage....
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Or Golfed or Swum
Instead, I had restfully full nights' sleeps; serendipitous chats with friends; quality-hours with Pat; surprisingly good chip-shots, putts and drives; dancing in the ranch's saloon to songs I loved and songs I danced to for love, since Pat liked them; NY-state cheddar-cheese omelettes; dinosaur discussions with a six-year-old son of our friends Mia and Deb; conversations while treading water for 30 minutes in an outdoor pool; horse-clopping in the background while finishing Chely Wright's memoir pool-side; a pre-bed "New Yorker" short story; meal-time conversations about what it's like to be a Kate Winslet movie extra....
Wishing the weekend were double its length.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Here's a Draft:
Dear Younger Sarah,
Let's time-travel, so that I can let you speak from your perspective, and then I'll return and try to be helpful from my older perspective:
When I realized at age 11, that I was physically attracted to my female best friend, I was crestfallen. This wrecks everything, I thought. After all, she and I were long-time classmates at a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school, where by First Grade, we learned that we were expected to marry a Jewish man, have Jewish children and keep a kosher home.
My early training was powerful because even though my family still loved and accepted me when I told them a decade later about my lesbianism, it was not till age 36 that I got over my internalized homophobia at the prospect of our child, having two mothers. Finally, I came to hope that two loving parents of any gender-combination would be fine, and then tried to become pregnant by IUI through an anonymous donor. I tried nine times over the next year and a half, to no avail. Neither technologically-trickier options nor adoption appealed to my partner and me, and so I concluded that God had other plans.
Now, I'll continue the letter from my 44-year-old vantage point.
God did have other plans for you, beyond any adventures your 11-year-old mind could have imagined, including:
- A smart, beautiful, kind, funny Jewish woman with whom to spend your life, so far, for nearly 19 years
- Helping conceive of, and start up, an IBM business development team, serving the GLBT B2B market, including substantial attributable revenue and great press in "Business Week"
- Pursuing a Master's part-time at Columbia University's Teachers College (TC) and serving on a QueerTC panel about being openly lesbian at IBM
- Six months in India on assignment, with your partner, accompanying you, and introducing local colleagues to her as your partner
- Designing and facilitating cultural intelligence learning programs in Second Life, inspired by your own attempts at cultural adaptability while in India
- Diversity and Multicultural learning offerings stewardship
- Center for Advanced Learning, to champion social and informal learning across IBM, which is dedicated to connecting IBMers to learn from one another
- Diversity and Multicultural learning offerings stewardship
- Successful GLBT diversity network group launch-encouragement at IBM in India and China
- Happily co-parenting two, adopted, tabby sister-cats; they seem fine, having two mothers
- Joining the world's largest GLBT synagogue, and writing and delivering a series of layperson's sermons.
I hope this list encourages you to believe that God gives you wonderful surprises.
P.S. My partner is making me write this part: I worried about social belonging when I became aware of my lesbian identity, but through my involvement in the GLBT arena at IBM, including being featured in national, GLBT-specific print-ad campaigns for IBM, I've had just the opposite experience. In fact, I've been told by a number of colleagues and even people beyond IBM that I've served as an inspiration and role model, since I took the risk of being who I am ultra-visibly.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Two Singers I'd Never Have Known Otherwise
This evening, Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Soul II Soul's "Get a Life," America's "Ventura Highway," Chaka Khan's "Papillon," Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and more accompanied my 2.5-hour soil-shoveling in service to our newest, emerging garden in our backyard.
Before reading Tonéx's story in "The New Yorker" some months ago, and then reading excerpts of Chely Wright's interview and story in "Curve," I had never heard of either, though in their genres, they were super-popular, and then both of them came out as gay and lesbian respectively.
Tonéx's tale touched me, especially after I saw this hit of his. I watched it over and over, marveling at his sexiness, voice, the beat, and the theme ("He won't fail you...")....
Similarly, I saw Chely Wright as exciting when I watched her hit, "Single White Female." Typically, I'm not a Country music fan, other than Dolly Parton's music, like "Hard Candy Christmas" and "Travelin' Through," but I was thrilled to see that someone so apparently different was like me after all. That's the name of her newly-published memoir: *Like Me*.
Chely Wright mentioned that she knew of her lesbianism by 3rd grade. She beat me; I wasn't fully self-aware till 6th grade. In Chely Wright's case, she was ready to kill herself just four years ago, when she was 35, tired as she was of her closet. In my case, beginning at age 36, I tried to have a baby, having been too internally-homophobic to try prior; I worried about the baby, having two mothers. By the time I got over that concern, as I've written here before, I was unable to conceive after nine tries, and gave up ultimately, figuring that God had other plans.
Now, Chely Wright says she's ready to be an ambassador for the gay, lesbian, bi and trans (GLBT) community, no matter what happens to her singing career. Tonéx got to that point, too. Their stories remind me of a recent invitation:
At work, those of us who are openly G, L, B or T, have been called to serve by writing letters to our younger selves, to be published on the front page of our company's internal web site on June 1st, in honor of GLBT Pride Month. I've been hesitant to be so public about my life-story within our official company web site. Here, I don't mind being so at all, as this is my blog, not my company's.
Will I feel even more free, like Chely Wright and Tonéx, if I write and submit the letter?
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Exhausted and Satisfied
Daylight into the evening enabled Pat and me to shovel and wheel and shovel and wheel and shovel and wheel and shovel and wheel and shovel and wheel...Two and a half cubic yards of soil, and two and a half more to go.
At midday, a dump-truck left five cubic yards of dirt in the middle of our driveway. Pat wanted it for the garden she's building in the backyard. After work, I loaded and re-loaded and re-loaded the big wheel-barrow and dumped and dumped and dumped the dirt wherever she directed me.
Standing on the pile with a shovel, I was reminded of Rosalie's funeral a few weeks back. Rosalie was the mother of Gary, my brother-in-law. All of us were asked to add a shovel-ful to Rosalie's grave in accordance with Jewish tradition.
At Rosalie's shivah afterwards, Gary's brother's wife told me how they have buried a few horses because, "They're members of the family, too, but it actually takes a bulldozer." I stood there shoveling this evening, feeling good at the contrast of this shoveling to all of that shoveling. This shoveling was to enable living things to grow.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
...Make Life More Special
Culture mashups can be so powerful, I'm reminded by the rock band, Toto's, and R&B star, Cheryl Lynn,'s Georgy Porgy." And by the biracial son of a friend who has his choice of Yale or Harvard for college next year; both of his parents could have been brilliant and of the same race, but they were brilliant and not, and I think that contributed to my friend's son, being a special and extraordinarily brilliant person. And by a heterosexual wakeboarding enthusiast, who is among my colleagues and who is close to his two gay brothers -- and a visible ally of the gay, lesbian, bi and trans community, just by his active love for his brothers. For all I know, my colleague's gay brothers could be wakeboarding enthusiasts as well, but the sexual orientation aspect of my colleague's and his brothers' cultural backgrounds will always be divergent, and yet they love one another in all their humanity.
I've said this before, probably here, too: As amazing a city as I found Shanghai to be during my relatively brief visit in 2005, I was less compelled by it than by New York City, since the streets were filled with people who appeared to be mostly of a common cultural background; NYC is filled with so many people from so many different cultures and I think that's the secret to its vibrancy.
When I get together with my mother and her friend Harriet, it's another sort of culture mashup: a cross-generational one. I'm amazed by our different experiences, and how interesting it seems for all of us to be together -- more interesting than it is, often, for me to be with contemporaries.
Same goes for talking with my 17-year-old nephew, in the other direction; I'm always the beneficiary of his native wisdom. The other day, we were discussing small-group dynamics for school-projects. We agreed that we're always among the ones who do most of the work in the group. I said, "Usually, instead of confronting the shirkers, I just go ahead and do the work."
"Well, since I'm doing so much of the project already," Zach said, "I figure I have the right to do some delegating, and so usually, I'll say, 'I'll do this and this.' And then I'll turn to the other person and say, 'And what will you do?'"
Probably among the biggest culture-mashups from which I've learned the most has been our adopting and co-parenting two tabby-cat sisters. We will never learn each other's spoken language, and yet we can communicate with one another, and I love them deeply, and feel affection from them sometimes, too....
My human nature, though, leads me -- initially -- to seek people and places that seem familiar. The paradox is that often, the people/creatures and places that are most remote from my experience end up feeling most comforting to me; for example, our home is finally a fully-sweet home, since we invited the cats into it two years ago. Fortunately, while I naturally seek sameness, God puts difference in my path continually.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
It's Too Early to Call Pat
Without my usual daily comforts -- Pat, the cats and access to a swimming pool -- while staying at the IBM Learning Center this week for the leadership development program I'm facilitating, I'm turning to my blog.
While I can't touch this blog, hug it, or take it for a ride around the house in my arms (like I could the cats, if not Pat), still, I'm turning to it to feel more human in the midst of being away from home for several days.
A friend had just posted a blog entry and I thought, aha, reading it will give me the reminder of my humanity that I'm looking for, but I was wrong. Rather, it just reminded me of *her* humanity and made me miss my own family all the more...even as it was a wonderful post.
I *could* drive home this evening and then drive back to the Learning Center later tonight, but...I'll use the idea all day to help me remember that I have options, and that this separation is just temporary.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
An Evening Out
Rainy, chilly, and then warm inside, catching up with our friend Laurie, and then rainy, chilly again as I leave the sanctuary to wait outside for our friend Karol to arrive. Has she ever been to a synagogue?
Yes, in college with her roommate; she went to Rosh Hashanah services at a Reform temple.
There's a lot of Hebrew in our service, I tell her. She had lived in Israel for seven months during the Gulf War and had studied Hebrew then.
It's a small world, it strikes me as we're finding our seats:
Of course, a woman I met in my Cultural Intelligence course this semester was referring to a fellow congregant when she told me about a new girlfriend she was seeing. I didn't know it, though, till I saw the two of them, sitting a few rows back from us, looking that blissful-new-couple way.
And a small world again: Karol's Ironman Triathlon captain was singing in our shul's chorus, she told me. They caught up after services.
In between, I sat there, wishing I could force myself to come weekly, despite working full-time and being in a Master's program the rest of the time. When we get there, we're always glad we came because it's meditative and joyous and sad and melodic and thought-provocative and relaxing and over-stimulating and poignant and imperfect and poetic and profound. Every time.
Most Friday nights, by contrast, when we're not at shul, it's TV-laden, Facebook-driven, cat-filled and mostly positively tranquilizing. Pat and the cats are the sum of humanity for the evening, rather than hundreds of worshipers, among whom we have a few friends who are always glad to see us.
One difference this time: a friend *from high school* who's not Jewish and who's heterosexual, accompanying us. Over the years, we've only invited one other non-Jewish friend to join us at services because she was visiting the U.S. on business from India and we thought it might be interesting for her.
Our Indian friend told us that it reminded her of what she had read about the Shakers, the way a number of us swayed a bit, forward and back, as we recited our standing prayers. (Those of us who did so likely spent years at a yeshiva/Orthodox Jewish day school, where that's how we were taught to pray -- swaying to and fro and standing with our heels together, always, to ensure optimal respect to God.)
It was more meaningful to me to have a friend from my teenage years with us last night. Back then (and still now occasionally) I spent so much time trying to fit into the mainstream, which I always thought this friend embodied. Turns out that all of us have huge differences between us and some striking common ground.
All we used to have in common was our love of skiing; that a number of our teachers mistook us for each other; and that we both enjoyed laughing. Turns out that both of us love to write -- she's a professional writer; both of us lived in Israel for a significant time during our twenties; and both of us felt part of a religious minority (she's a Christian Scientist).
Who knew when we were sitting on chairlifts or giggling during class all those years ago that we'd be spending April 16, 2010, celebrating the Jewish Sabbath at the world's largest synagogue for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews and our family and friends?
Yesterday afternoon, I tweeted, "Looking forward to going to shul this evening for the Yom Ha'atsma'ut service, and to a friend from high school, joining us."
Karol responded with a comment on my Facebook profile: "hey me too what a coincidence! :)"
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Like a kitty to be stuffed in
A pet carrier for her own good
Crying all the way to and from
Why should she trust
Saturday, March 27, 2010
"...That Make Us Most Interesting."
I've quoted this sentiment here before; it's my friend Richard's, and I think it's true. Earlier this afternoon, I was viewing a documentary on a woman I met more than 20 years ago at a lesbian dance-bar. She was telling her story for a gay history project and it touched me. I knew none of it, other than that when we met, she was still married and confused about what to do next with her life. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've written about her somewhere in this blog before, too, but prior to having any of the insight I gained today from the video.
She was stunning -- also dark-haired and blue-eyed and Jewish, but a number of years older than I. We left the club together and got into her convertible sports-car. It was summertime and she put the top down, but we never left the parking lot. I half-listened to her talk about her confusion, and meanwhile, was thrilled to have met a gorgeous, Jewish, likely lesbian woman of any age and tried to kiss her in response. She rebuffed me and I got out of the car, figuring, oh, well, she'll figure it out somehow, but not with me, I guess. I went home lonely and never saw her again...until six years ago, when we were at the same GLBT community benefit and I recognized her.
She was visibly older, but still beautiful, and I re-introduced myself to her as someone she had met nearly 20 years ago for just a single evening, and referring to the now-closed dance-club. She seemed not to remember me at all, and I guess that's what it's like to be unforgettably beautiful; you don't remember everyone who remembers you...or maybe she was chagrined to be reminded of that time in her past, or both. Either way, she was cordial, but I excused myself quickly, as I felt suddenly embarrassed to have failed at re-connecting platonically, despite our both now being in much more solid, settled places in our lives.
Humanity as a Revelation
The formerly married lesbian's story reminded me of how difficult it was for me, sometimes, to see others' humanity, and to reveal mine. In the case of our initial meeting, I focused on two of her features exclusively -- her beauty and her Jewish identity -- and didn't want to think about the rest, i.e., that she was tortured about being married at the time and (as I learned from the documentary) had 20 years more of life experience than I, plus an oldest child who was just eight years younger than I.
The other night on Facebook, I posted a link to a CNN story on people who lose a parent(s) when young, and prefaced it with:
I lost my dad of blessed memory to cancer when I was 17. The survey's sponsor reminds me of the grief group I went to for high school kids who had lost a parent(s) in Hartsdale, NY. I was so grateful that my mom found it for me. I went every Wednesday night from December thru June of my senior year of high school.I was surprised at two comments in response by Facebook friends I knew in high school and after college, who both said they had no idea I had lost my dad. The first respondent said that she had also lost her father at a young age, which I never knew, and the other one was a heterosexual guy trapped in a lesbian woman's curvy body when I knew him, which I did not know at the time.
Why didn't I know about my high school classmate's dead father when we were in high school? Why didn't I know about my then-lesbian friend's gender identity struggle when he was in the midst of it? Why didn't they know about my father's (z"l) death till the other night? All I can say is that this blog and how I live today are reparations to myself for having been so closed off, and maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the self-disclosing direction. Still, I feel that I have been making up for what I experienced as lost time, when I was so self-contained that no one knew much about me, other than that I was typically nice, was funny sometimes, and while in my early-twenties, was ultra-amorous.
Fortunately, I have lived long enough and matured sufficiently to see the humanity of my high-school classmate; my post-college friend; and the gorgeous, lesbian mother...and to try to show them more of mine.