Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Things I Appreciate About...

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

Pat, My mom, My Sisters Deb and Kayla

In today's "New York Times", Bruce Feiler wrote an essay that inspired me to tell the four people with whom I am closest in the world -- my wife, my mom and my two older siblings -- what I appreciate about them. He talked of Dr. Shelly Kagan's point to tell our loved ones what they mean to us sooner, rather than later.

Feiler also quoted film critic Roger Ebert, who reminded us that we shouldn't try to compare ourselves to similar scenes in the movies, since, "...those scenes are well-written, directed, and performed by professionals." In that spirit, I'll try to be fearless or at least less self-conscious in creating and posting these lists:

Pat, you are:

  1. The funniest person I know, and without being cruelly so
  2. Inclined toward doing g'milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), for example, suggesting that we use our prayers that we were posting in the Western Wall in behalf of the sick granddaughter of a couple in our Israel tour group (who had been strangers just days prior)
  3. Lovely physically, including your green eyes, dimples, pretty mouth, tall height, appealing gait and more
  4. Jewish like me
  5. Nearly photographic with your memory; you know the answer to almost any question I ask because, "I read it somewhere," you say simply
  6. Action-oriented -- which has rubbed off on me and made me more disciplined, for example, with completing chores -- and your related, dedicated work ethic; you even treat volunteer-work like a job
  7. Innocent, rather than cynical, that is, you prefer naïveté over suspiciousness
  8. Accomplished, including having earned an M.S. in Pysch, an MBA, and an M.S. and Ed.D. in Education, and multiple executive jobs in Higher Ed. with giant responsibilities before retiring, and the incoming president of Essex County Master Gardeners
  9. Well-coordinated -- a great dancer and graceful in sports
  10. Attracted to me.

Mom, you are:

  1. Vocally proud of me, which makes me feel good and validated and encouraged and emboldened
  2. Available whenever I want to talk with you, including offering encouragement when I need it
  3. Funny and also readily amused by the world around you, including me
  4. Intellectually curious and interactive/interrogative, especially during Q&A's at lectures, always contributing a nugget as well as asking the best questions
  5. A good arbiter of what makes for interesting art/cultural experiences, including movies, music, lectures...
  6. Creative, for example, in:
    • Amassing the Jewish folk art collection you have over your lifetime so far
    • Designing cultural programs for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Stamford and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center back in the day
  7. Stylish -- you have more flair than anyone I know
  8. Invested in my development since my babyhood, including exposing me to more experimental pursuits than any other parent I know, including tennis, acting, golf, needlepoint, oceanography, clarinet, guitar, piano, journalism, cartoon art, sculpting, skiing...
  9. More intuitive than anyone I know and routinely, you say the kindest thing at just the right time, even to people you've just met
  10. Supportive of me unconditionally, for example, though you might have wished I'd have done like you and married a man and had children, you love me actively even though I did neither, including always introducing Pat appropriately when you're acquainting us with your friends.

Deb, you are:

  1. The most original person I know, including your continual creation of unique, cool and useful silver and copper Jewish ritual objects
  2. Along with Kayla, the most dedicated sister I could wish for, including reading lesbian literature to understand me better
  3. A devoted mom, exposing your kids to cultural experiences galore and letting them be who they are, including artists, skateboarders, and Latin and Greek students
  4. The person who most informed my music-appreciation other than me, including Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, The Crusaders, Michael Franks, and even Madonna, who you spotted super-early; I acknowledge my debt in this blog entry
  5. A great mother-by-proxy, including giving me shampoos via your "Magic Mask" invention when I was little
  6. One of our family who showed me Israel at its best, including rowing me down the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv while you had bronchitis when I was 15 and you were 24 -- I hope we didn't know it was bronchitis at the time
  7. The world's best birthday-card writer, always including a message that shows your love specifically of me
  8. The most adventurous fiction reader I know, including authors from around the world; your example inspires me to be more wide-ranging in my choices
  9. A gifted singer with a gorgeous voice, who along with Kayla, always makes me sound better at Pesach Seders
  10. Proud of me.

Kayla, you are:

  1. The best rhymer I know, including profound and hip poems tailor-made for poetry slams and publications
  2. Along with Deb, the most dedicated sister I could wish for, taking care of us whenever we got lost as children, including in the Bowery in New York City when I was five and you were 10 and a half
  3. A devoted mom, encouraging Zach to pursue whatever makes him happy, including years of playing the sitar and schlepping him to New Jersey for lessons and buying him his own sitar till he became good enough to be paid for gigs at the nicest Indian restaurant in Brooklyn
  4. The person who taught me three essential skills, to:
    • Ride a bike
    • Recite the Ma Nishtana
    • Play Chess
  5. My mentor as an educator and you inspired me to pursue a Masters by your example
  6. A brave leader who, as a high school principal, leadership consultant and vice-principal, has helped hundreds and hundreds of new immigrants and refugees have a better, more meaningful life in America than they would have had if they had not met you
  7. The first person to:
    • Teach me The Facts of Life, when I was seven and you were 12 and a half, while we waited for our school bus
    • Learn of my non-heterosexual sexual orientation, when I was 15 and visiting you at college
  8. Our family member who first taught me the value of immersing ourselves in other cultures by living in multiple countries, going to Israel for six months at 14 with our school, and then to Finland for a year on AFS at 17
  9. Resilient, surviving cancer while unwaveringly contributing to others' well-being
  10. Like Deb, proud of me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Hits

Of All [My] Time

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

Inspired by the radio stations that offer the Top 100 songs of all time around the new year, I'm going to list my top 10; they made it to the top 10 only if they were not only wonderful melody-, beat-, and/or lyrics-wise in my opinion, but also made me feel vivid emotions:


Anxiety management:"Pippin" was the second musical I'd ever seen ("Gigi" was the first), when I was 10. My oldest sister had the soundtrack and I memorized this tune from it and try to remember to sing it to myself for comfort whenever I feel anxious about my future.


Pure pleasure: Again, Deb had the record and this song, "Yo Ya", just makes me feel joyous. When I was in 3rd grade, I'd dance around the living room while it played -- one of my recent blog-posts referred to it.


Faith and Hope: A few years ago, I read an NYT article about Tonéx and was especially touched by this tune, where he reaffirms that God (well, he refers to Jesus, but I translate it in my head, since I'm Jewish) will not fail me, and that there is no failure -- essential messages to encourage my bravery -- another of my recent blog-posts referred to this tune.


Exhilirating Escape: Beep, beep, whistle -- those are my favorite parts of this perfect song for rollerskating. Growing up, I never saw any of these singers sing their songs; they were pure radio hits, or roller-rink DJ spins. Felt cool and not nerdy when I was skating, though I probably still looked nerdy.


'80s Lesbian Anthem: I always heard this song as "I just wanna be your lover, Girl," rather than "...lover-girl". Sure enough, it was among the first songs I heard in the first lesbian bar I ever entered, in Ann Arbor, Michigan when I was 19, so perhaps the DJ also heard it that way. I love so many of her songs and enjoyed posting "My Life as Teena Marie Song-titles" a few years ago.


The Balm: I think of Pat and the miracle of our finding each other when I hear this song. We were such unlikely lovers based on my upbringing, which pushed for my finding a man, and also unlikely due to our age-difference (she's 15 years my senior) and so much else, except for our values, which are practically identical. The song reminds me of how sad I was in the love-arena prior to Pat, and how lucky I am to have her.


Nerd Transportation: Another favorite rollerskating tune, and another opportunity to pretend I was glamorous and not nerdy. Used to imagine myself as a better skater than I was while I skated to this tune (and others).


Romantic Loneliness: First heard this in 1985 while living in Jerusalem for my Junior year abroad and studying at Hebrew University. That year, I was my loneliest ever at times. This song made the loneliness almost sweet. I became a huge Simply Red fan.


Romantic Awakening: Heard this on my transistor radio before or after the Dr. Demento show when I was 10 and had my first serious sense of romantic longing. The birds and the wordless ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah of her voice made me forget to breathe for a moment.


Imagination Capture: I need to acknowledge how Deb, my oldest sister, substantially informed my music taste. Interesting how three of my top 10 were from her record collection. This song immersed me in its plot. Ironic, my listening to the singer as though she were singing to me, since I was a 14-year-old suburban kid in Connecticut, listening to it in my family's warm living room.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Considering Christian History and Culture at Christmastime

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

Alienation and Attraction

It's practically guaranteed that if I had grown up Christian instead of Jewish, I'd have believed unflinchingly in Jesus as the Son of God. That's how I am as a Jew -- unquestioning of monotheism. I'm a loyal person to whatever I'm affiliated with; it's the best way I can explain it.

Growing up, I was taught to be wary of Christians, even as they were my neighbors and friends, because of the:

  • Grand Commission, which compelled a number of Christians to proselytize, which always felt disrespectful, even though unwittingly, to my family, faith and me
  • Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and Holocaust, not to mention the many other Christianity-affiliated (I wouldn't call them truly Christian) rulers who had ultimately exiled and/or killed Jews throughout history.

I've grown up ashamed that my parents weren't able to be more forgiving, or at a minimum, less suspicious, and also ashamed that their frame of reference informed mine, and at how hard it has been to let it go...and how I may never fully.

What bad timing and even poor taste to bring up any charged feelings about Christian history so near to Christmas! Here's what made me think of it:

  • Pat recently described Christmastime to one of our Christian friends as the most alienating time of the year for Jews in this country, since it is not our holiday, but it is the holiday of a majority of the rest of the U.S., and her stark assessment resonated with me, so I needed to blog about my associations with Christian history and culture to clarify for myself how to deal with my alienation
  • On Facebook, Sue Sena and I just connected. Sue is the head of a marvelous gay-straight alliance called Swish and before I saw her profile, which includes a quote from St. Theresa and a thumbs-up for the Gospel group, Mary Mary, who I *love*, I did not know of Sue's religious affiliation, "Protesting Catholic", and Christian in any case; it's Mary Mary's "Walking" that I love especially:
  • Yesterday, Pat and I went to a Christian rock concert by accident, and it was mostly wonderful -- we didn't love *every* song, but not because of the theme, but just because not all were stellar; Pat ordered tickets for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) in September, not considering that December would be a Christmas show and boy, was it! (It was also our first-ever hard rock/heavy metal concert):

Sue Sena and Trans-Siberian Orchestra are doing good in the world. Sue is helping further human rights and TSO gives a dollar of every ticket sold to a relatively local charity, every time they tour. Yesterday, they gave a check for more than $21,000 to a metro-NY children's hospital. At their best, religious people of every religion, I'm confident, do good in the world.

I fear that I sound like I'm trying to convince myself. Maybe it's because the chip on my shoulder has been there for 47 years, and still moves me compulsively to express suspicion periodically. For example, I was speaking with a couple of new colleagues by phone last week and one, who had a Christian-sounding name, mentioned that he had been in the U.S. Navy, in submarines, during Vietnam. I told him that my dad (z"l) had been in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

"I'm a bit of a World War II buff," he said. My knee-jerk thought was, Creepy! How can anyone who's not a Nazi-lover refer to himself as a "buff" in association with World War II?

Accordingly, I responded, "I'm a bit of a Holocaust buff, unfortunately," I said, "Being Jewish. I took a graduate-level course in it and have done tons of reading."

"Yes, what a terrible time in history," he said, and I regained rationality and felt like a kill-joy, as I realized then that he was likely thinking of the heroism of our military, having been in the military during a war himself. I guess that's the way I'm wired....

For the rest of this blog-post, I'd like to catalog more of what I've loved from Christian culture, in addition to Mary Mary and TSO because it doesn't feel good to feel alienated and because it reminds me that life, belief, faith and I are all complex. And I want to affiliate with what I love from it while not feeling paranoid that a proselytizer will pounce on me and try to show me how close I am to accepting Jesus. There's that shoulder-chip again!

"Some of My Best Friends/Memories/Literary Experiences Are..."

  • Many friends, including Didi, Helene, Honeybee (aka Barbara), Mirja, Lisa, Jen, Rob, Clay, Stan, Jack, another Jack, Bernard, Stacy, Donna, Mia, Deb, Linda, Rahel, Esther, Joy, Pam, Suzanne, Jim, Chitra, Elizabeth, Paul, Tim, Rita, Jan, Donna and Lorraine are devoted Christians and whether we were friends especially in childhood, high school, college, when I lived in Chicago or through meeting at work, I'm fond of all of them and have enjoyed exchanges about our religions with each of them, though not having revealed -- before now -- to all of them my historical (and sometimes lingering) paranoia around the Grand Commission
  • Being an angel among my nursery-school classmates, and each of us getting to pin an aluminum-foil-covered cardboard star to the stage-curtain during the school's Christmas pageant (before my parents switched me to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school for 1st-8th grades); it was thrilling to add my star and to be in that winged angel costume, complete with halo, and I don't recall participating in as magical a pageant of any sort since
  • Christmas mornings at Didi's and Helene's -- When I was a little kid, our neighbors graciously let me come over first thing to celebrate with them and I felt the specialness and totally included, and my parents were fine with my going there because when Didi came home from Catholic school and asked her mom, "How come the Jews killed Jesus?" her mom said, "Don't believe everything you hear," and so my mom trusted her forever based on her telling my mom the story and her response
  • C.S. Lewis and Madeline L'Engle were two of my favorite authors since childhood; they had the best brand of magic -- and I never knew the New Testament metaphor of C.S. Lewis' series till adulthood, and then I read a number of his adult works that were explicitly religious and they comforted me hugely
  • Falling in love with the writing of Flannery O'Connor and Thomas Merton in college; my favorite teacher in high school, Mr. McWilliams, introduced us to Flannery O'Connor and I included her "Good Country People" about a hypocritical and criminal Bible salesman in my senior thesis, and found Thomas Merton in an East-West comparative religion course
  • Most recently, discovering Tonéx, a gay Gospel star who was rejected by the Church when he came out, especially this hit, which re-inspires me every time I hear it and makes me believe that God and I believe in my abilities. He sings, "There is no failure":

Please, God, release me from my Christian-wariness bias and let me purely enjoy the parts that appeal to me without feeling anxious that I'm betraying my own religion, or that I'm doing anything but finding new avenues for connections with more of humanity. Amen.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day 2 of My Vacation

A Prose Poem

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

I've got everything on my mind from the
mystery of mental illness to pop tunes on
YouTube to needing to do some straightening
up/mining piles to how sunny it is, yet how cold
and how ill I feel with a sinus infection.

Once when I was ill as a young child, my dad (z"l)
bought me a toy doctor's kit and then also a roll of
Neco wafers to distract me from my illness. I wish he were
still around to distract me.

If my dad (z"l) were with me now, I would ask:
Who on your side was mentally ill, so I could
better understand some contemporary relatives who
are. And I would thank him for introducing me to
rollerskating and for buying me a pair, as they
augment my enjoyment of pop music.

And I would wonder aloud if there is a clutter-gene,
and if so, would be annoyed that having that insight still
wouldn't help me clean up the piles in my home-office any faster.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Pair of Strange Patriots

A Pair of Strange Patriots

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

A Pair of Strange Patriots by sarah-siegel

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Peak and a Valley

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

Peak Haiku

Huge confidence-votes
Historical day at work
Wish to celebrate.

Two hours later...

Valley Haiku

Connecticut mourns --
My childhood-and-more state
-- Elementary.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Earliest Smells

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

The First Smells I Recall:

Last weekend, our friend David asked us about our earliest smell memories. I said, "Aiplane glue", and then thought about it some more to post this list:

  1. Playdough(TM)-- It didn't smell like food, but I had to taste it
  2. Airplane glue that my dad (z"l) used to build models -- smelled like oranges
  3. Cinammon and butter -- my dad (z"l) used to make us butterfly toast topped with these
  4. Skunk cabbage -- gross, skunky and irresistible to pluck the smelly part from the plants and toss it at our friends when we were playing in the woods
  5. Skippy(TM) Peanut Butter -- smelled salty-sugary
  6. Chlorine -- Burnt my eyes and stung my nose
  7. Jean Nate(TM) -- my mom's
  8. Old Spice -- my dad's

Friday, December 7, 2012


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

We're on the Way to Being Acknowledged as Human!

What will I be in the position to do when I'm in my mid-80s? By that time, in 40 years, I hope people will be talking about the inability for two people of the same gender to marry the way we talk about interracial marriage today. Same-sex couples will still be a bit exotic, but no one will question that they can marry. I interpret marriage as a basic human right and to have a number of people still suggesting that marriage is not my entitlement says to me that they do not see me as human.

Today, with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider the case of Edie Windsor, who spent more than a decade at IBM, and who's Jewish and lesbian and around my mom's age -- and for all of those reasons, I relate to her especially -- makes Edie at the vanguard of the human rights movement. And I'm sure that instead of being in that role, she'd rather simply have her wife still with her, and to be going about their lives, but in the absence of that possibility, she has channeled heart-break and loss into heroism. God bless Edie Windsor.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


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

Missing My Friend Robert Today

Robert Kingoff of blessed memory was Southern, Jewish, funny, my friend and HIV+, and then dead of AIDS relatively swiftly 18 years ago. I wrote about him in #23 of When I think of AIDS, I think mostly of Chicago, where I lived when I first made friends who were directly affected by it and by HIV.

For once, I clicked on tags in this blog, and saw what else I've written on AIDS and HIV in the past and found and