Saturday, July 23, 2011

Have You Been Here Before?

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

Yes, Five Years Ago

I push this new friend's shoulder playfully and say, "Don't wait another five years to come back!"

"Well, I'm from Berlin," she says and I feel silly.

"Ah, well...."

Pat & I are headed out of Shabbat services last night when I see a woman, standing by herself near the exit. Is she an older version of a young woman I knew when I lived in Jerusalem? I look at her like she looks familiar, but then realize she's not. She's not at all old enough to be that friend.

She has thick, nearly black hair to just above her shoulders; dark, twinkling eyes; is almost slight in physique at a quick glance; and is a few inches shorter, and many years younger, than I.

"Lots of young Israeli lesbians are coming to Berlin..." she says when I ask her how big the community is where she's from. I'm trying to act casual about her homeland, but it's still wild to me to meet a young, Jewish person, let alone a young, Jewish lesbian, from Germany -- it's just the generation I'm from, I guess, but I'm still stuck in a Holocaust time-warp when I least expect it.

"I was in Hamburg once, but just overnight for a focus group, for business," I say, and she becomes excited that I've been to Germany. "I've been told that when I go back, I really need to see Berlin."

"Yes, definitely, you should," she says, looking at both of us.

Pat recalls that a congregant's family is from Germany and that he gave a Torah from the family to the local, re-built synagogue in the town they were from.

I bring him over to meet her. Pat & I want to leave in any case, as that's how we spotted the woman at the exit in the first place, but we don't like to ignore strangers.

Once the woman and he begin speaking in German, I excuse us. The woman looks anxious and I say, "Are you on Facebook?"

"No, I've not wanted to be, but I can see that I'm going to need to be before long....Let's exchange e-mail addresses, in case you come to Berlin."

"Sure." I write down Pat's and mine and she writes hers -- her name spelled backwards.

Wow, a young, Jewish lesbian, living in Berlin today....Humanity hosts so many stories.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Do You Remember Minky's Bike Shop?

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

Rabbi Weiss' Mother Nods, Yes

Instantly, I'm 21 and reliving the Summer of '87. I'm in the storefront-shop, near the corner of Devon & Mozart, in the Jewish and Indian neighborhood of Chicago. Could Rabbi Weiss' mother and I be contemporaries, since her mother remembers Minky's?
Rabbi Weiss' age is a bit of a mystery, except I'm sure she's younger than I.

It's comforting to make a quick connection with the rabbi's mother, since Rabbi Weiss met mine when she officiated at our wedding, and since the Rabbi's name appears with our families' and ours in "The New York Times" announcement. The rabbi's mom and I know Minky's!

When I Was a Struggling Magazine Intern in West Rogers Park...

Minky's was tiny, and messily full of -- in my memory, anyhow -- mostly used bikes. I bought one of them for $25 from Minky himself; he was a white-haired, older guy with a sweet face and thick, bike-grease-painted hands. I'm pretty sure he, too, was Jewish, though not observant enough to wear a kippah. I bought the bike just days after moving three blocks away from the bike shop, into a tiny room on the top floor of a blond-brick three-flat, 6137 N. Mozart. I joined two female roommates, who needed a third. One had a fiancé, earning an MBA at Northwestern.

Even in 1987, $25 was cheap for a used bike; it was a cheerful blue, similar to the blue of the "Preview" button in, where this blog is made, only a bit less powdery, and brighter. It was the color that appealed to me. I don't think it had any speeds/gears to shift. During the first couple of weekends, I rode it down to the Rocks at Belmont Ave. and the Lake, and I'd sit with it among my people, but would not speak to anyone. And there was no way I was going to go to services at Or Chadash, the gay synagogue, where I would have found more of my people -- and where, three and a half years later, I found Pat -- because I was in a Judaism-has-no-room-for-me-as-a-lesbian phase and I was intent on proving myself right.

Through reading the gay newspapers, which I picked up for free at The Closet, a lesbian-owned bar near that part of the Lakefront, I learned where the gay and lesbian people hung out on the Lake. What I wanted to know culturally, I read, rather than speaking with anyone; they were just a bunch of strangers who made me feel lonelier in their friends-clusters and boyfriends and girlfriends-pairings.

My own girlfriend at the time was finishing her English Master's that summer in Ann Arbor, which was where we met at the start of my senior year of undergrad. She visited me just once that summer prior to our moving in to an apartment together in the fall...which we should not have done, as we weren't suited to each other, but I have digressed.

What I have digressed from: naming the experience of living in a brand new city, effectively alone, at 21, and the loneliness and insecurity that it inspired.

Fewer than 10 days after the purchase, my blue bike was stolen from the the three-flat's basement. The only other luxury I bought myself that summer was a cassette-tape-playing Walkman, which I would play during the six-block walk back and forth from my summer internship at "Inside Chicago" magazine.

Amy Feldman was the journalist who supervised me directly and tried to help me learn to write for the magazine. I must contact her. Probably, she was just a year or two older than I, and kind, but I was closeted, i.e., never declared myself; probably, she knew and simply was gentle with me. Our editor was Debbie Loeser, who was fun and generous, too.

How unfortunate that I couldn't let myself be myself; if I had, they might have gotten more than my little travel-piece on Ann Arbor, including much more useful help with the Dr. Lauren Berlant interview. Oh, boy, what a great article that could have been -- a U. of Chicago English professor, who chose to meet with me at the Randolph Street McDonald's, and who spoke for much of the time on Rap music as poetry. Sadly, I was so guarded and so full of pound-bags of nearby, gas-station-convenience-store cookies and Fluky's hotdogs that whole summer -- I ate to tranquilize myself in the face of my aloneness -- that I couldn't produce any more than I did.

I've written about this Devon Avenue moment a number of times, but during that lonely summer, it seemed all too apt when I passed a doorway in the Indian part of the neighborhood that was still wet with new paint and over which the painter had hung a sign: "FRESH PAIN."

Meanwhile, a Quarter of a Century Later...

On Friday night, in New York City, during the Summer of '11, my partner of 19 years -- and wife of 15 days -- and I find our favorite spot at services, right in the middle of the second row. A minute later, Rabbi Weiss brings over an attractive woman, who is closer to my age than Pat's, to sit in front of us and then the rabbi returns to the pulpit, where she prepares to begin the service a few minutes later. I wonder if the woman is her mom and after she has settled into her chair, I say, "Shabbat shalom," and introduce myself and Pat, and she responds, "I'm Marcie, the rabbi's mother."

When we establish that we had lived just two blocks away from each other in Chicago -- even though probably during different periods -- I time-travel to the neighborhood where Rabbi Weiss' mother grew up and where I spent my first summer out of college and become that lonely, young woman again. Pat brings me back when she tells Rabbi Weiss' mother how special our mother/mother-in-law, and we, think her daughter is, and how stellar Rabbi Weiss was as our officiant.

"I should have recognized you. You two were in Facebook; I saw it!" she says, perhaps because I had tagged Rabbi Weiss when I posted the NYT announcement-link in my profile. The rabbi's mother also acknowledges our kudos, saying that it's a special pleasure to visit our synagogue, to hear all of the nice things congregants say about her daughter.

The next day, while driving from Pat's & my house in Montclair to my mother's house in Stamford -- the same house, where I grew up -- I think of Rabbi Weiss' mother's role in healing my life; she gave birth to, and helped raise, the rabbi who sanctified Pat's & my long-time relationship.

In my car-ride-length fantasy, I imagine a five- or 10-year-old version of Rabbi Weiss, running around her neighborhood at the same time that I, during my 22nd summer (I turned 22 in mid-July), am learning how to live in the world [of West Rogers Park], as a college-grad without much else to claim. During my trip back to Stamford, where Pat & I also were married two weeks prior, I enjoy thinking that the rabbi's parents start out with her in West Rogers Park and then move to Evanston later, after the Summer of 1987.

In creating this blog-entry, I check my reality by researching Rabbi Weiss a bit and see that she is 11 years younger than I and a native of Evanston. In that case, Rabbi Weiss would have been 10 during my first summer in Chicago, and instead, was playing several miles north-east of West Rogers Park at the time. That's all right. It still was real that Rabbi Weiss' mom grew up just two blocks from where I got my post-college start, and still, I could feel healed, knowing that a girl from that mostly-Orthodox Jewish (and Indian) neighborhood gave birth to Rabbi Weiss, who gave birth to Pat's & my legal marriage.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Long-time-coming Contentment

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

Relief Rollercoaster

Rabbi Rachel Weiss, smiling a beautiful, broad smile, as she has done practically throughout the relatively short and very sweet ceremony: "Now, if anyone would like to say a word -- not a sentence or paragraph -- about what they're feeling right now, please go ahead."

Pat, Rabbi Weiss, and me

Oh, no, I think silently, but loudly, this is the pressure-part for everyone. What if no one says anything? An otherwise surprisingly relaxing ceremony feels suddenly tense for me.

My mother begins, "I don't want to give away either of you because you're both too precious to me."

My tension drains. How perfect. Unsolicitedly, my mom has taken up the mantle, serving as the proxy for Pat's mom, who, at 87, is too frail to travel from Green Bay for the wedding, and for both of our dead fathers (z"l). My mom is all of our parents for the day, and also, finally -- genuinely -- Pat is her daughter-in-law.

"OK, 'precious.' Who else?" asks the rabbi.

"L'chaim!" says my brother-in-law Gary, coming into view behind the rabbi.

"Mazel tov!" says our friend of 18 years, Carol Vericker, who's holding one of the chuppah poles.

"B'hatzlichah!" says David Chase, our friend of 17 years, and another chuppah-pole holder.

"To your success [or good luck]!" the rabbi translates.

I reward David with a big smile. David, who's an athiest, is the most respectful person I know when it comes to others' religious and cultural traditions. I don't recall when he found out that "B'hatzlichah!" was an appropriate phrase to use with Jewish friends, just that it was prior to our occasion, for another pair of friends.

I don't say a word then, but if I had done so, I could have chosen from, "finally [after 19 years]" or "relief" or "joy" or "buoyancy" or "phew!" These words remind me that we were invited by the team to create a 3-minute-or-less-in-length video of how we met and got together, and we did so. In addition, we submitted an announcement, which was published today.

Directly prior to the wedding, my words would have been, "awed," "self-conscious," "on-display" and "torn."

Our niece Zoe, her grandmother -- my mom -- Sam & Max, Zoe's brothers, at the High Line

"Awed" because I was feeling that it was practically too good to be true that my immediate family and four dear friends-as-family were gathered for an occasion that was in honor particularly of Pat & me. That feeling stayed with me all day, including at lunch afterward as I looked at everyone around the table; at the High Line prior to Shabbat services; and then again at shul, during services.

The only other time I had ever had a special moment(s) with a rabbi prior to a ceremony that involved me was for my dad's (z"l) funeral when I was a year younger than Zoe (and our other nephew Zach), at 17....I don't even recall a rabbi at my bat mitzvah, which I celebrated with my family at Camp Ramah...and that was not my finest hour, as I had been too busy, having a vivid sleep-away camp experience, rather than practicing my Torah reading, and so I was a tentative performer; I guess I'm trying not to remember that occasion.

"Self-conscious" and "on-display" because I was wearing the most beautiful, most classically feminine, most cadet-blue dress I had ever had on in my life, including open-toed dress-sandals with lavender-painted nails and I felt as vulnerable as I predicted I would. I was convinced to wear what I did by a heterosexual friend who had said to me some weeks ago, "Well, doesn't everyone feel vulnerable on wedding days in any case?" By "vulnerable," both of us meant, super-public, rather than private, and in various senses, almost naked, rather than armored, no matter what we're wearing.

Another two, lesbian friends were influential, too, as both of them had chosen to wear a dress for their weddings in Massachusetts because, they agreed, it was an ultra-special occasion. One of them and I also share a love of using virtual worlds for learning and I said, "And besides, you're familiar with that Stanford research that says that thin avatars influence their obese creators to lose weight? Well, as you know, my Second Life avatar is super-femme and I think she's influencing my real-life choice of outfit."

My friend understood, and I think our avatars would have been proud of me.

"Torn" because three of my relatives hit traffic and were late, and the ceremony already should have been in progress. While waiting for them, I experienced a bonus-dilemma: I ran into a friend I had met through another friend and our affiliation with a national organization that advocated against gender-stereotyping. I didn't realize that she worked in Stamford's Government Center, where we held the ceremony, outside of the cafeteria on the 4th floor, in a space that resembled a city-park.

She was with a colleague and I was happy for the coincidence, but anxious about our late-start, and our conversation was holding up the proceedings further. Pat walked over and I said, "This is Pat, my...fiancée."

"Yes, hi. I think we've met," she said -- and I recalled Pat, being with me at a benefit or two for the organization. Since my friend lived in Stamford and my mother still did, too, I had brought her to my mom's house to meet my mother some years ago. Pat's presence by my side reminded me of the occasion and snapped me back into the present.

In a split-second, I decided, no, I won't invite her to join us; this is going to go as planned, as much as possible. We are having just my immediate family -- my mom, two sisters, brothers-in-law and collectively, their four kids, plus four friends to serve as Pat's proxy-family, and who we chose because they were the first two couples to befriend us as we were moving to New Jersey from Illinois more than 15 years ago.

"I hope you'll understand, it's just a small, family wedding," I told my friend.

She nodded, of course, and I hugged her and walked back over to Pat and the rabbi. Oy! I wish I had been more flexible and just said, "Please join us."

After the ceremony, which was brief by design -- about 20 minutes in length total -- I saw that she was still at the picnic table, where she had been prior, though her colleague was gone. I approached her.

She said, "I like to work outside when the weather's nice. Guess who sends her best wishes?" She had called our mutual friend to let her know that Pat & I were marrying. I felt like a jerk for not including her, since I'm supposedly so committed to inclusion everywhere, all the time; oy! Pat came over again, which helped wash away my guilt for a moment, as I was happier than guilty in saying, "And here's my wife."

My friend smiled and Pat made a nice comment about the friend this friend had called, and then walked back to the rest of our family. My guilt returned. I looked at my friend sheepishly and she switched topics, "You know, I still have those tefillin for you," she said.

"I *know*. Every time I'm in Stamford, it seems I'm here with my mom and then gone and back to see my mom and then gone, but yes, we have to figure out a time."

This friend is a transwoman and while she recognizes that women, who are not Orthodox Jews, are welcome to wear tefillin, they remind her of the years, where she had to present herself as a boy and man, which wasn't true to herself.

I wonder what she was thinking as I walked away. I hope she forgave me.

Bonus Reflections By My Mom and Me

Two days later, as I write this, above all, I'm happy to be Pat's wife, finally, after nearly two decades. It reminds me of a shirt that our friend Gerard changed into for the evening, which featured a great photo of David and read, "Married to David in 2003" above the photo, and below it, "His fiancé for 16 years."

As I pressed, "Publish post" just now, my mom called me. "You said that Pat told you I looked contemplative during the ceremony?" my mom asked.

"Yes, 'contemplative.'"

"I was. I was thinking, Thank God I lived to see this day."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Our Wedding Day

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

Feeling Like the Translation of My Name

"Sarah" is the Hebrew word for "princess." And I do feel essentially female and lovely, and even regal today. Please, God, let it last. Other than wishing I had had 90 minutes more of sleep each night for the past couple of weeks, I feel fresh and excited.

All these years, I've felt sort of in limbo societally -- more fish and fowl than human, as I had gotten to age 45 without experiencing either of two classic milestones of human adulthood: being married and having children. Today, I'm declaring my humanity ultimately through marrying Pat. The up-side of having to wait so long is that our lovely niece and nephews can participate in our wedding in more substantial ways, e.g., Zoe's gonna take candid photos.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, Pat," I asked as we woke up this morning, "How worried are you?"

"10. Just kidding. I'm not worried at all," she said. Fundamentally, I believe Pat, which is another reason for marrying her.

Please, God, let today go spiritually. May we do Your will. Amen.

Note added on Saturday, post-wedding: My oldest sister Deb's toast to Pat & me included her assessment that paradoxically, I'm the most conventional of the three sisters/daughters, i.e., we were the first to buy a house, we live in a suburb...and so if the reference above to "classic milestones of adulthood" sounds ultra-conventional, I guess I gotta admit to having conventional taste in a number of areas.