Sunday, December 4, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 4

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

Session 4, last one about *Fun Home*, November 29

During our third session on *Fun Home*, I had meant to bring a printout of the portrait that my artist friend Riva Lehrer painted of Alison Bechdel, but I forgot, so I'll post a couple of links here -- the first to the portrait and Riva's narrative on it and the second, to a link, thanking Riva for giving a recent gallery talk in front of the portrait at the National Gallery. I'm always envious of visual artists because who wants to slog through a blog-post? It's so much more instantly moving to look at a painting, drawing or sculpture, especially by a gifted artist like Riva.

Riva can also paint with words; when we were in our 20s and both living in Chicago, where we met and where Riva still lives, she told me, "You remind me of a Carson McCullers character -- a fierce outsider with her nose pressed up against the window." I think I'm a bit less fierce now ....

The Graphic Memoir and the Play - More Comparison

The coming-out letter aftermath

We looked at pp. 77-79 and listened to "A Flair for the Dramatic". Both covered Alison's exchange with her closeted, gay father -- of whose sexual orientation she was not yet fully conscious -- after her parents received her coming-out letter.

The song version had a great couple of lines, where her father said, "The good news is, you're human."

"What does that *mean*, she asks herself, "What else would I *be*?"

Raising my hand and then speaking as Jonathan nodded to me, "I keep mentioning things my mom [z"l] blurted out to me, but this is reminding me of the time when I was 17 and she found a love letter to another girl that I had left on the kitchen table by accident/on purpose," I said, "Her first words were, 'Don't you marry some man and ruin his life!'"

"You're crazy! It doesn't mean anything!" I yelled desperately.

One of my classmates said, "Your mother had a lot of insight. How did she think to say that?"

"My mother [z"l] was very smart."

Unlike Alison's father, my mom (z"l) was paying attention to my reality, even if I wasn't yet prepared to. Before she was clued in by the letter, though -- perhaps when I was in 8th grade -- we had an informal "birds and bees" talk, but it was really all about my mother (z"l) asserting that I could enjoy myself with boys without spoiling my virtue. I don't recall her also explaining the pregnancy-danger angle.

My mother told me, "There's plenty you can do without having intercourse." I understood that sexual intercourse with a boy would wreck everything in terms of marriageability, but that I was being given permission/encouragement to do whatever else I wanted (with boys) -- not that she explained what that included.

 The scene in the car

We also read pp. 220-21 aloud and listened to Telephone Wire . Alison's and my parents (z"l) gave us so much just by giving us life, but also how frustrating it was to witness Alison's exchange with her dad during college. He was completely self-absorbed and made Alison parent him instead of rising to her occasion and being the parent.

The song version of the scene in the car reminded me of watching the Miss America pageant once with my dad (z"l). I was prepubescent and among my mother (z"l), two older sisters, my dad (z"l) and I, only my dad (z"l) and I watched the pageant; that could have been a clue about my future.

My father (z"l) also died young, at 56, and we, too, never had an explicit discussion about what I wanted for my future in terms of a spouse. In Alison's case, at least she tried to discuss her identity with her father. In my case, I was too scared at 17, which is how old I was when he (z"l) died.

Like Alison, ultimately, I did send a coming-out letter to my mother (z"l) and two more to each of my sisters and I mailed all three on the same day. I was a senior in college and my mom (z"l) must have expected it, since she had found the love letter to my girlfriend four years prior. She called me long-distance from Stamford to Ann Arbor and was purely kind. And for the first time ever, she didn't hurry our conversation due to the long-distance charges.

In the book version of the song, Alison and her dad were heading out to see "Coal Miner's Daughter". Once, when I was five, my dad took just me to see "Gigi" and then out to dinner afterward. It was my first Broadway play. I wonder if we could have experienced "Fun Home" together, and so much else, if only he had lived long enough.

*Fun Home*'s Design

Our instructor Jonathan started the session: Watch these two montages and jot down some differences you see between the Public Theater version and the Broadway version; collectively -- though mostly helped by Jonathan, who was more familiar with the footage and both productions -- we came up with:
  • Cartoon panels were suggested in both productions, but at the Public, there were white frames on the backdrop behind the actors, and on Broadway, they appeared as lit-up, giant squares on the stage-floor.
  • On Broadway: Alison unearthed her memories via the furniture that would emerge/pop up through the stage floor; the actors were lit from four perspectives; and the audience could see the audience's reaction, since it was theater in the round; and the follow spot[light] on the Adult Alison, "... made it look like she was floating through the memories" -- Jonathan.
  • What I caught was less subtle: In the Public Theater version, the male babysitter had his shirt unbuttoned and his chest and underpants band were visible while in the Broadway version, Alison's costume was a shirt and underpants for the college scene, where she had her first intimate experience with a woman.

Jonathan explained that good scenic set designers aim to elicit audience emotions with what they design. We also learned, as an aside, that the Lincoln Center Library has practically every Broadway play and you can sit there and watch any one if you make an appointment. Who knew?

Here are links to the first, second and third in my series of notes on this course. The next four sessions are going to be devoted to *Falsettos*, another LGBT Broadway play that's currently in revival. So far, I'm noticing that the most Jewish parts of our exploration of these LGBT musicals are:
  1. We, who are in the class and our instructor are Jewish.
  2. For the Broadway version of *Fun Home*, the playwright, Lisa Kron, is Jewish. 
  3. For *Falsettos*, the lyricist and co-playwright, Bill Finn, is a congregant of our Synagogue and Jewish.
  4. Some of us share how we're relating to the play we're studying by sharing stories of what happened in our Jewish families that bear any resemblance to the play's plot.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 3

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

Session 3, November 15

Since we continue to meet in the chapel, where congregants' relatives' yahrzeit plates appear on the far wall, my parents (z"l) still are auditing this class, effectively as a pair of brass-plated (dead) flies on the wall (see photo below). My dad's annual yahrzeit lamp was lit this time; it was his 34th yahrzeit on the 11th, so the lamp was staying lit till the following Shabbat:

Exercise: Create a curated exhibit of a day in the past week, or your past week altogether, as represented by three objects that you describe on three index cards and leave somewhere in this room near one another.

My cards, all from one day last week:
  1.  Viva la vida-inscribed, watermelon-slice-shaped-and-colored key-chain from a street artist in Mexico City 
  2. Damascened vessel in silver and bronze, with Arabic inscriptions from Medieval Jerusalem
  3. [A memory of] Size 14 sneakers for skateboarding.
Give everyone a tour of your objects. We walked around on a guided tour of each exhibit and did not necessarily explain the significance of our objects; in my case, I simply described them.

"How does this exercise connect with last week?" asked Jonathan.

"Objects give an entryway into the story," I offered.

"Ok, and objects help us remember. There's something about going around the room to "look" at the objects that helps us recall and remember. It helps us encapsulate emotion. And jump off to go deeper into ... a specific set of events that are embodied by a number of objects."

I loved this exercise and will re-use it somehow. I loved it because it made me feel so invested and engaged in expressing myself creatively, spurred on by what had amounted to the most vivid objects of a particular day.

Video of Alison Bechdel, explaining her artistic process

We watched this video next and I recalled being lucky to go to a live lecture by Alison Bechdel at the LGBT Center in NYC several years ago, where she gave a longer description of her technique. I was amazed by its meticulousness. And then I marveled again at another artist's precise, original method of glass-blowing. I blogged about his demo and lecture and compared it with Bechdel's process a bit. You can see for yourself; just scroll down to the section, "Two Artists, Equally Inspired and Inspirational".

Next, we compared pp. 96-98 of the graphic memoir to the scene/song, "Party Dress".

Both the panels and the scene/song reminded me of a painful memory. My face was so troubled, I imagine, that Jonathan asked if I had something I wanted to say.
This just reminded me of a very painful memory. It was Deena Gans' birthday party and I was 12. [Nearly all of the girls in my class already needed bras, but I didn't yet, at all. I was ashamed that I was still wearing undershirts. I couldn't stand wearing an undershirt any longer, not even under the striped Danskin shirt I put on for the party.]

My mother insisted that I wear an undershirt. "No, I won't," I insisted back.

"Put on an undershirt  n  o  w  !'"

Instead, I ran out of the house and down our long driveway as my mother yelled out the front door at me, "Butch!" I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it wasn't good.

It was fresh, the pain of our exchange of more than 40 years ago. It was another five years before my mom (z"l) was even more consciously vocal about my lesbianism, when by mistake/on purpose, I left a love letter to another girl on the kitchen table. I was a high school senior and just weeks prior, my father (z"l) had died of bile-duct cancer and only my mother (z"l) and I were left in the house, since my sisters were older and had moved out. "Don't you marry some man and ruin his life!" my mother yelled as her initial reaction to the discovery of the letter. She came around to being compassionate and was greatly supportive for most of my life, but those early years were crushing for both of us.

Then we looked at pp. 189-190 and listened to "Clueless in New York". 

I had a couple of memories pop up during the panels and during this scene, too. The panels referred to a trip with Alison's father and her siblings to New York City for the Bicentennial. Along with my mother (z"l), my father (z"l) took my siblings and me to New York during the Bicentennial to see the Tall Ships. Compared to Alison's experience, it was one of the nicest family days we ever had -- we parked with many others in a parking garage near the river and watched from there with tons of humanity pouring out of other parked cars. My mom (z"l) had packed a picnic for us, and we munched our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while leaning against the station wagon and watching the ships glide by.

The scene in the play didn't refer to the Bicentennial, but rather to her father's cagey wish to find some excitement in what was the gay hotspot back then, Greenwich Village. It reminded me of me, 10 years after the Tall Ships trip, when I turned 21. My middle sister and brother-in-law invited me to stay with them in their apartment at the time, in Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village. To celebrate my coming of age for legal drinking, they gave me a bottle of champagne as a birthday gift. We drank some and then they went to bed. I told them I was going to go for a walk. The difference was that all of us were adults officially, rather than that I was a parent, leaving my kids alone in a huge, strange city, as Alison's father did to her siblings and her.

I left Kayla & Elliot's apartment, hoping for the adventure of seeing real lesbian and gay people, walking around the Village. I scouted for a bit and no one was apparent, not any women in any case, so I decided to do something wild and entered a neighborhood magazine shop to find something racy to read.

The only LGBT-oriented publication for sale was "Gay Community News", a weekly newspaper out of Boston. I didn't peek through it at all. I had the cashier stuff it into a paper bag and walked back to my sister's, where I planned to read it if they were already asleep. They were, and I was excited, till I scanned the headlines. Yawn. It was all straight news ... so to speak. There was nothing pulse-provoking about it. I'm fairly confident that Alison's father found what he was looking for on his Village jaunt compared to my thwarted exploration.

Exercise for Homework: Consider three iconic moments in my whole life that reflect an arc of experience and write/illustrate them; the illustration option is my inference, as the form that Jonathan handed us had three caption fields with space next to each for a drawing. I'll think about it. So far, here are some candidates without doing any refinement, prioritization or arc consideration:
  • Learning to swim / ride a bike / recite the Ma Nishtanah (Four Questions) at the seder / to love rocks and minerals at Dr. Henderson's encouragement
  • Helping complete a minyan by lying by omission at my mother's (z"l) encouragement; they thought I was a bar-mitzvah-aged boy when we were in Mayah Sh'arim, but I was a tall eight-year-old girl
  • My mom (z"l), yelling Butch at me
  • Noticing my physical interest in one of my best friends, rather than in her older brother, at 11
  • My first lesbian experience, in Israel at 15
  • My father dying when I was 17
  • Going to college and exploring my sexuality, including while living in Jerusalem during junior year
  • Getting fired from a job I thought I was too good for in 1990
  • Beginning my relationship with Pat in 1992
  • Starting up the LGBT B2B business development team at my company 
  • Having my Master's sponsored by my company
  • Going with my future wife Pat to India on assignment for my work for six months in 2007
  • Marrying Pat legally in 2011
  • Graduating with a Master's in 2012
  • My mother, dying in 2014 ....
We have just one session more on "Fun Home" and then we switch to "Falsettos" in two Tuesdays, after Thanksgiving.

Here are links to the first and second in my series of notes on this course.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals Part 2

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

Session 2, November 8, 2016, Election Night

Exercise: First, we'll think about the election and then we'll get away from it. Think of the first election you can remember and write about it in present tense:
Sealing envelopes for McGovern mailings in a dark room in his Stamford headquarters. It might have been the first volunteer work I ever did.
How do you begin to fictionalize a true story, asked Jonathan, and how do you create an entryway for the audience?

Exercise: Look at young Alison from "Fun Home". Describe her.

We called out: playful, precocious, inquisitive, tomboy, verbal, aware, observant, older sister, wants her dad's attention.

Now, describe images you remember from the play that are associated with her.

We called out: ring of keys, lace-up boots/short hair, coffin, airplane, barrette, dress, piano with Mom, sketch book, objects of living room, Tall Ships.

These images are more compelling than attributes of the character.

Exercise: Now, choose an age and do the same with yourself; write it down:

Age 11 - flat-chested, tomboy, enthusiastic, vulnerable, observant, aroused, active, loyal, tall, anxious, secretive, suntanned from playing outside.

Images associated with that age: white bikini, sunrise from Jennifer's bedroom, Coppertone lotion, Yes concert T-shirt filled out by Jennifer, beach chairs, terracotta roofed home on the water, the Sound, city bus, white-toweled brother with teeth effervescing from 7-UP.

What was hard about doing that exercise, asked Jonathan? The yearning and the pain from the pleasure that, practically immediately, became a feeling of shame in my case; I recognized, viscerally, that I was attracted to my early-developing, curvy friend and not to her gorgeous older brother.

In groups of three, share what you wrote with one another. And then in plenary, everyone, just share one image from your group of images: bicycle ... seeded jam in a sandwich ... locker room ... white bikini ....

The archival work of your own life maybe requires memoir-ing an image, suggested Jonathan to all of us.

Video clip #1: We watched an interview of the "Fun Home" composer and playwright on how they arrived at an opening number for the play. When the lights went down in the downstairs chapel, where the class was held, the ner tamid (eternal light) and current yahrzeit (death anniversary) memorial lights remained on. Last week, I didn't notice the yahrzeit lights. This year, my dad's (z"l) Hebrew yahrzeit is on November 11th. I hope the light comes on and stays on through our next session next Tuesday.

Video clip #2: We watched the lyrics for the opening number, "It All Comes Back"and I thought about how my older sisters, not my dad (z"l), used to give me our version of "Airplane", which we called g'yupapah. When I was little, I loved for my dad (z"l) to carry me from the back of the station wagon in the garage up to my room; I'd pretend to be asleep, so that he'd carry me.

Written in front of the TV while watching election results:

From the opening song's lyrics:

"My dad [z"l] and I were exactly alike." [Our appetites, our stature ....]
"My dad [z"l] and I were nothing alike." [I eat healthy food. I've been employed by the same company for more than two decades so far.]

The play, "Fun Home", reminded me of my own life, since the main character lost her dad too early and since she was also a tomboy as a kid and an active lesbian by college. At least three of my classmates, one man and two women, are parents themselves, so perhaps they can relate both to the parents and the kid. We have two more sessions on "Fun Home" before we switch to studying "Falsettos".

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Notes from A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals

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

Session 1, November 1st 

Here's the course abstract from the Lehrhaus course catalog:

A Jewish Exploration of LGBT Musicals: FUN HOME & FALSETTOS
Taught by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and CBST Member Jonathan Shmidt Chapman

Explore two iconic musicals currently on Broadway that feature LBGT stories front and center. Through text study, hands-on activities and discussion, participants will actively engage with these two dynamic works of art while making connections to Jewish teaching.
(Note: CBST will organize member trips, featuring talk backs with the creative teams. These trips are not included in the class registration).

Required Reading In Advance: FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel

Here are my notes from the first session: 
  • Four sessions each -- Fun Home & Falsettos
  • Favorite theater experience ever, we were asked, by way of self-intro. Don't over-think it, we were told. Thought first of "The Children's Hour", but Jonathan asked for favorite theater experience, not favorite play. Ok. The original version of "Pippin". First Broadway play was Gigi with my dad, but fave was Pippin at age eight or 10. Best drama experience was "The Beauty Queen of Leenane". Pippin because of the music and lyrics and the drama because it was just crazy -- what an intense mother-daughter relationship. [Now, I'm also thinking of "'night, Mother", another mother-daughter drama.]
  • Asked why we were drawn to the class: "I just need more fun in my life. This sounded like pure fun."
  • We were asked to interview each other in pairs, asking about each other's week so far.
  • Dramatized each other's interview by drawing it. Paralleled what Alison Bechdel did with the graphic memoir of Fun Home. Liked how well I listened. 
  • Rabbi Kleinbaum: "Lisa Kron [the playwright of "Fun Home"] is Jewish and was deeply drawn to Alison's story." She did a one-woman show on her relationship with her father. 
  • My parents (z"l) are taking the class with me; they're up there on the Yahrzeit wall, since we're having this class in the downstairs chapel, davke with Session 1 on the English calendar death anniversary of my dad (z"l), who died 34 years ago today.
  • I also like that even when we turn off the lights to see a clip of the play, the Ner Tamid (eternal light) stays on.
  • Who mesmerized me first? Unlike Alison's version, where she identified with the butch woman, wearing a ring of keys, and felt like she had found her people, but wasn't attracted to her per se, mine was an object of desire -- a dark-tan, bright-blond woman, who was acting in a local, community play, the star of it. I think I was five or six at most.
  • So far during this class, I drew, I wrote, I read dramatically, I interviewed. Loved the experience.
Further jots during my train-ride back from Penn Station to Montclair: 
  • Why do I like graphic novels and memoirs? They are more immersive for me? They give me permission to linger? They forgive my relatively slow reading pace?
  • Election Day, we'll have class. Hope we won't during Thanksgiving Week, since I'll be in Green Bay with Pat & Jim [my brother-in-law].
  • My experience of "Fun Home" also included seeing new friend Lauren & her partner, and her mothers in the audience. Was jealous of Lauren & her partner. [Pat's & my mom were already dead by then.]
  • My mom (z"l) and I went to "The Lion King", but not to "Fun Home". Not sure she'd have loved it, so best we didn't get to go.
  • My mom (z"l) and dad (z"l) and me.
  • My mom (z"l) always had my hair cut short and let me wear all sorts of clothes. My dad (z"l) let us dress up as Uncle Sam. 
  • When I asked my mom (z"l) for clues about me, all she could say was that it seemed strange to her during our first trip to Israel, when I was eight, that when she let me pick out a commemorative Israeli doll as a memento and I chose a male Chassid, rather than a female doll.
  • I said simply that I liked his shoes and shtreimel [faux-fur-rimmed hat], but that didn't explain it for her.
  • There was a girl who seemed like the me I didn't want to be when I was 13, David's friend. I forget her name -- blocked it out.
  • There was a baby girl at the Charbroil Grill Diner in Montclair, who wouldn't stop staring at me and smiling at me. I was like her ring-of-keys moment, or she thought I was a "boy", perhaps, since I was wearing a baseball cap and had short hair then.
  • The Ring of Keys song, Rabbi Kleinbaum emphasized, was the star's/Alison Bechdel's identitification song, not her love song. Even the joy she felt in finding someone like her was tempered by her father's unhappiness at observing her recognition.
  • All of us have secrets. Mine just burst forth because they were harder to hide, since they were physically visible.
  • Ever since I've known her, Joyce [one of the people in the class], has been an activist around aging, and older people's rights.
  • Am I still an activist around being a lesbian? Does my identity -- that part -- still dominate my days/existence? Or have I settled into being a corporate suburbanite, who just wants a peaceful life?
  • [Like the star of "Fun Home"/Alison Bechdel], what are the three pivotal stages of my life?
At 11, staring at my beautiful best friend and her gorgeous brother in bathing suits and realizing I preferred looking at my best friend, rather than her brother, and being devastated by what I realized.
In college, hunting for men & women till owning my lesbianism senior year.
As an adult, after 19 years together, marrying Pat legally in my hometown, Stamford, surrounded by my family, at 45, including a short video on and a wedding listing in "The New York Times".

Thursday, October 6, 2016

That's Why They Call It Leadership

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

Reprinted from my internal, IBM blog, "Learning to Lead":

"That's why they call it leadership," were the final remarks of Oxford Professor Marc Ventresca at Oxford's session on "Beyond Disruption: Ideas with Impact". He was referring to how enterprises need a purpose and not just a mission, and specifically, provided the examples of CVS, opting no longer to sell tobacco products, since it's a healthcare company [I could argue that it shouldn't sell candy in that case either], and to Unilever, vowing to become an environmentally sustainable firm. At IBM, our purpose is to be essential. And in our [behind-the-firewall, internal-only] 1-3-9 Purpose, Values and Practices site, we can review, "What does 'being essential' look like to our clients? It’s seeing our passion for going above and beyond to meet their needs by applying our Practices to every aspect of the client experience."

What does being essential look like to our IBM Learning clients? Surprising and delighting IBMers, and increasingly IBM Business Partners, clients and prospective IBMers with learning experiences that help them build their skills. And how do we do keep doing what we already do well, that is, training leaders and sellers while in parallel venturing into training people for new roles, for example, Watsoners and Offering Managers? Or how do we keep doing what we already do well, e.g., face-to-face, classroom courses and online learning while at the same time experimenting with Virtual Reality, social technologies and Watson-powered robots for learning?

What is IBM Learning's purpose? It needs to go beyond our mission. Professor Ventresca quoted Lenovo's CMO, "The mission statement [merely] has to make sense; purpose has to resonate." Is our purpose to build skills of the new IBM? Let's try it: IBM Learning's purpose is to build skills of the new IBM. That resonates with me. How about with you?

Professor Ventresca started his remarks by using Kodak as an example of exploiting its core business while insufficiently exploring its new business opportunities. He explained that Kodak had patented 28 percent of digital technology, but didn't see the disruption of the web coming. If it had, it would have seen that the web made sharing electronic photos wildly easier and that they had viral potential. "Disruptive technology is not great initially, and then it becomes good enough, and then coupled with other things, it becomes transformational." Kodak was a relatively old example compared to his next, Uber, which is already moving from being a better taxi service to starting a driverless car venture. Why did Google buy Waze, asked Professor Ventresca, too. "To craft it's driverless strategy." And Tesla, he said, is not a car company as much as it's really trying to become the home battery company, trying to solve long-term battery storage.

On driverless technology, Professor Ventresca said, "It won't necessarily even be the best. It'll be the winning consortium." Another word for consortium, he explained, is ecosystem. "Be more of an ecosystem player and talk with groups from other organizations .... Establish disciplines for selecting, experimenting, funding and terminating new growth businesses .... Purpose," said the professor, "builds bridges across ecosystems."

Prior to the session, with beverages in our hands, participants did a bit of mingling. I was fortunate to talk with the head of Digital at Citi, along with the head of Oxford's Custom Executive Programs, and eventually the professor himself. I asked the Exec. ed. leader if she knew our own IBMer Michael Coleman, an Oxford alumnus, who does IBM recruiting at Oxford, and she said, "I've been in my role for just two months, but Marc [the professor] might."

Unfortunately, by the time the professor joined us, I missed the opportunity. In fact, as I write this, I wonder if Michael made our VP Guillermo aware of the event and if that was the genesis(!) During my pre-session conversations, I *was* able to learn that the head of Citi's Digital group had been an IBMer in Australia in the '90s, in the days of O/S2; that the head of Oxford's exec. ed. group had done her Doctorate on rocks on Mars -- and I mentioned that I had adored rocks and minerals as a child, and at 10, with my best friend Amy, had been the two youngest members of the Stamford Mineralogical Society; and that the professor and I both loved Chicago. We had lived there around the same time -- in my case, more than 20 years ago. The Citi leader exclaimed, "You're the best networker here: You found a connection between the two of us with IBM, with Elaine [the exec. ed. head] as a fellow lover of rocks and with the professor around Chicago." 

I wonder, if IBM, Oxford and Citi were introducing a disruptive technology together, what could it be, and would our ecosystem help us win over any competitors, introducing a similar disruptive technology?

For fun, here's a reminder of how easy it is to share photos over the web; I snapped this shot of the marvelous Chrysler building while approaching Oxford's offices on Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street:
Follow the professor on Twitter, like I now do, if you're also intrigued by his remarks.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


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

Reprinted from my internal, IBM blog, "Learning to Lead":

In college, in 1984, our Women and Literature professor assigned the novel *Orlando*. In the novel, fog was practically an additional character, as there was deep cloud-cover during the period of Orlando's mystical gender transition. Coincidentally, I remember that in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I read the novel, it was unusually foggy for the duration of my reading that section of the book. And it was a foggy time for me, personally, too, as I was transitioning into allowing myself to own my lesbian identity fully, though it took till senior year ultimately. It actually struck me -- Ann Arbor's weather -- as being empathetic with my own real-life journey, at the time, as I was reading the book.

Now, a week after the mass shooting mostly of LGBT people in Orlando, Florida, perhaps by one of our own people, my head has cleared enough to reflect on it a bit more deeply. On Thursday afternoon, I spoke with Doris Gonzalez, a Latina IBM colleague, who had called to say that she was distraught about Orlando and was thinking about how to piggy-back on the great anti-bullying work that was done by Connie Bonello and Esther Dryburgh and others from IBM in Canada. When we spoke, I was on my way to the San Francisco Airport to head home from a business trip.

"May I tell you a personal story?"

"Of course!"

"The closest I ever came to what happened in Orlando was in Chicago in 1987. I had just moved to Chicago [after graduating from college] and wanted to socialize in the LGBT community, but didn't know where to begin. I found a venue that sounds as ... boring as it was [-- apologies to any Womyn's Music lovers --], the Mountain Moving Coffee House for Womyn and Children. It was at the end of the [lesbian] separatist era and I really don't like womyn's, with a Y music at all [-- I've always been more so a fan of Teena Marie and Patrice Rushen --]​​​, but I went anyhow.

It was held in a church and part-way into the performance, there was a giant BOOM. All of the women in the audience, including me, ducked down in the pews. It didn't turn out to be a bomb. We never learned what it was, but for the few moments, when I was crouched on the floor of that church, I thought, I'm gonna die and all because I came to hear this [lousy] music [because I was so desperate to be among my people, where I could enjoy a Saturday-night haven; I was not open about my sexual orientation at the magazine, where I was interning and so needed the company of others like me all the more so. I remember feeling so alone and awful that I, who had been raised with a deep Jewish identity, should die by myself in a church because I was a lesbian, who was lonely for my people, and then when it turned out to be nothing, I shook off those thoughts and didn't really re-conjure them till this Orlando tragedy and my conversation with this colleague]. But in any case, Doris, all of us went out to clubs in our twenties, didn't we?"

We agreed that it was tragic, since all of us liked to go out dancing back then, whether or not our parents were thrilled with our entertainment choices, and the same thing could have happened to us, that is, in our twenties, Doris and I could have gone to Latin Night (or any night) at a[n LGBT] club -- Doris with a gay friend and I to dance with kindred spirits -- and in fact, I did relatively often, but never was gunned down, thank God.

And now, I'm reminded of how I brought my eldest sister and brother-in-law with me to an LGBT club in 1991, to hear Crystal Waters sing both of her hits at the time. We had "100% pure fun" that night. Talking with my middle sister while in the airport, she recalled our having gone to a club in Chelsea before Chelsea was a gay neighborhood, and with my boyfriend at the time, in 1985 -- I was still on my journey then. Who didn't go out dancing in his or her twenties?

When I read the brief obituaries in today's "New York Times", I saw that only a small number of those killed were not still in their twenties. In general, their bio's weren't yet super-impressive, and neither was mine at that age. Thank God I had more time to amass experience and to make a difference and to learn -- to clear the clouds and make a primarily happy life as a lesbian.

This morning, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story, where the reporter was covering the Latino angle of the tragedyand I was flooded with poignant IBM memories:

To my knowledge, the first senior executive, who ever said the words, "lesbian and gay" to an auditorium of IBMers was Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the VP of the Internet Division at the time; it was 1997, though IBM had had a non-discrimination policy in place for gay and lesbian IBMers since 1984. Irving was from Cuba. IBM alumna and now IBM Watson Ecosystem Partner Maria Hernandez and I collaborated back then, so that EAGLE, IBM's LGBT business resource group (BRG) and LatinNet, IBM's Hispanic BRG could co-sponsor Irving's talk on How to Be an IBM Leader. Irving met with both of us together prior to the talk and asked, "What do your constituencies need to hear?"

"Ours just needs to hear you say the words, lesbian and gay," I said; unfortunately, it was 1997 and we were not yet explicitly inclusive of bisexual and transgender IBMers; that happened explicitly a few years later. Still, what we were asking for felt a bit revolutionary, and Irving said, Fine. And then he spoke brilliantly. 

In the mid-90s, "Wired" magazine called Irving Wladawsky-Berger "the smartest person at IBM.” Here are just a few of his remarks:

Well, first of all, the environment in which you exist is all-important. Clearly, if I were talking about a career in Germany in the 1930s, that was not a good place to be Jewish. Being black in the 1950 or '60s in the deep South, some may even say in the North, was not pleasant either. Only more recently have women begun to significantly progress from the point of view of careers while, as far as gays and lesbians are concerned, movement is now beginning.

...what observations do I have about my career, especially given the fact that I'm a minority in more ways than one, being Hispanic, Cuban-born, always speaking with an accent and second, being Jewish? …  Don't waste the energy trying to be what you're not. Be comfortable with who you are because, again, it takes too much energy to pretend to be anyone different ....
You'll never, ever be able to focus on your job if you are concerned with who you are or whether the world accepts who you are because then your energy will be dissipated. If you're comfortable with who you are, if you're comfortable that the world will accept you and that for those people who don't, it's their problem, you have so much more energy.

So, it's a good time to be in IBM. It's a good time to be whoever you are. It's a good time in our country to be whoever you are because we're about as open as I can imagine any nation has been and the rest is up to us as individuals.

The other marvelous memories I have are from the early-2000's, during one of our first IBM Global LGBT Leadership Conferences, if not the very first one:

Bruno Di Leo, who was from Peru, and was then the GM of IBM in Latin America​, flew to IBM in Palisades to address and encourage us as up-and-coming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders at IBM. Currently, Bruno is the SVP of all of IBM Sales & Distribution, globally, as well as the senior executive sponsor of the LGBT Council at IBM, and Bruno jumped on a web cam to talk about the Orlando tragedy and to reaffirm IBM's inclusiveness and support for all IBMers, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender IBMers. Seeing the short video from Bruno and recalling Irving's remarks makes me realize that since the late-90s, Latino IBM leaders have been among our staunchest allies.

But I want to wind back the clock again finally to the early-2000's; after the penultimate day of sessions, at night, there was ice cream in a common room at the IBM conference center. I didn't want ice cream, but thought I'd go, just for more of the fun company of LGBT IBM colleagues from around the globe. On my way, I heard fantastic music coming from another ballroom-sized room. I peeked in and spotted a bunch of conference goers dancing Salsa. Apparently, they preferred dancing to the ice cream, and so did I, but I was shy.  

Cristina Gonzalez saw me admiring the dancers from the door and invited me to join them. It was the Latin-American conference delegation and they were so welcoming. I felt silly, as all I had ever learned was the cha-cha, and that was when I was taking ballroom and Disco lessons as a pre-teen many years prior, when David Kaplan from my Jewish day school class was my partner; all of us from the school took dance lessons in preparation for the Bar Mitzvah circuit. Dancing with Cristina and others was much, much more fun. No offense meant to David, who was a fine, 12-year-old dancer, and still a kind friend and ally today .... "Who's singing?" I asked Cristina. "She's gorgeous."

"That's Celia Cruz", Cristina told me.

The next and final day of the conference, Cristina came up to me and handed me an envelope and told me it was a gift. In it was the Celia Cruz CD that had been playing the night prior. We beamed at each other.

The NPR radio report about Orlando ended with Celia Cruz, singing "Yo viviré (I will Survive)". And we will survive, and thrive, as long as we follow Irving Wladawsky-Berger's advice.  I just wish I weren't imagining dancing in a bullet-proof vest at the moment. I will get past such thinking. I'm glad I read *Orlando* in my twenties and lived beyond those decades to gain clear-headedness about who I am. And I will keep dancing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rest in Peace, Toonces, the One and Only

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

How I Came to Get What's Special About Cats

Toonces, photo-bombing a picture of Phoebe

Growing up, there was Fluffy and Chummer and Jody and Tigger, but they were my friends’ dogs. Amy had a big, long-haired cat, but she didn’t hang out with us like the dog did and had an air of mystery accordingly. At home, we were allowed only turtles, so I didn’t really get what it meant to have a pet.
A relatively short time after Pat and I got together, in the early ‘90s, her sweet bull terrier Meghan Jonquil died of an aneurysm. I’ll never forget how, inadvertently, I offended one of our fellow Or Chadash congregants by announcing both the death of his grandfather (z”l) and Pat’s dog from the bimah (pulpit) that Shabbat.
Suddenly, I’m reckoning with the death of a being who represents the closest I’ll come to directly parenting anyone. At a moment like this, I wish I’d left it at turtles – with them, I was more so their siblings, since my older sisters mothered them.
Toonces’ sister Phoebe is lying on the table next to me as I write this and I’m trying not to feel survivor’s guilt in her behalf. Why did Toonces get cancer, but not Phoebe? Why did Toonces get cancer at all? Why did my father (z”l)? Both of their lives were cut short – his at 56 and hers at nearly 13.
Toonces and Phoebe almost weren’t Toonces and Phoebe. For the first 16 years of our nearly 24-year relationship so far, I denied Pat a pet. I didn’t grow up with a cat or dog at home and so I didn’t get it. No, I said, they’ll just smell up the house and you won’t pay attention to me once we have a pet.
Finally, I relented because I felt guilty. I was working full-time and earning a Master’s part-time and felt bad at leaving Pat alone so often. OK, we can get a cat from P.A.W.S. (the local shelter at the time), I said dolefully. We went down there and agreed on adopting an older cat, since they’re usually less popular and because Pat said that in their wildness, a kitten would drive me crazy.
We looked at cage after cage and I felt terrible at having to choose a cat and then leave the rest behind. We returned a couple of times to a cage with two gray-brown, striped American tabbies. The P.A.W.S. rep came over and said cheerfully, “Would you like two? They’re sisters.”
Oh, God, I’m a sister myself. We can’t separate sisters. The P.A.W.S. person told us that they had turned five in May. Pat & I agreed that each of us got to name one of them. I called one of them Phoebe and Pat called the other Muffin … but not for long.

Our first evening with them, Pat looked at the littler one and said, “You’re no Muffin. You’re a Toonces!” It might have been as Toonces was staring down at her from the ceiling beams of the laundry room. It turns out that Toonces was so scared of her new environment she remained on the ceiling for a week, except to use the litter box.

From then on, she maintained her Toonces-like reputation, routinely springing from a loose tile in our basement’s raised ceiling onto the back of Pat’s  La-Z-Boy rocker, surprising Pat every time. A woman once said to me, “I prefer dogs. Cats won’t obey.” It was then and even prior that I realized I adored cats for the same reason; intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful sort.

Phoebe and Toonces – well, really, just Phoebe, as Toonces never really cottoned to me (nor Phoebe to Pat, interestingly) – have claimed affection from us utterly based on their whims. I have loved the serendipity of it all. For instance, Toonces would join Pat unpredictably while Pat was eating breakfast and would walk into Pat’s newspaper-reading arms, and lean into her chest. She’d come to rest, hanging her front paws over one of Pat’s bent elbows. Pat called it, “Table.” Toonces would jump up on the table and slink toward Pat, and Pat would look at her and ask rhetorically, “Table for Toonces?”

Toonces really didn’t care much for my touch, but her little face was so cute and her mischief mostly funny, and she charmed me. I did not do the same for Toonces apparently; yesterday morning, amidst her lethargy in her illness, I gave Toonces a series of pets and she did as she did so often when I petted her: Immediately following, she bathed the very patches I had touched – the cat equivalent of wiping one’s hands on one’s pants post-handshake, in front of the person whose hand you just shook. Even so, I was amused. “Pat, look at that. She’s ill, but she’s still got enough strength to wash me off of her fur.” Kindly enough, when we petted her for the last time this afternoon, she let me, period.

Earlier today, Pat & I recalled that prior to Toonces’ meal time, she would sit up against a wall with her arms across her belly and would look remarkably like a person as she waited for me to feed her sister and her. And in the mornings, if I didn’t wake up when she was hungry, she’d walk over to my night table and start tossing books off of it. And at dinner time, when Pat called, “Kitties!” Toonces would run three adorable circuits around Pat’s La-Z-Boy before entering the laundry room, where she was fed, nightly.

For cats, I’ve learned, everything they do is socially acceptable as far as they’re concerned, except they’re not – not concerned … except with each other: Little Toonces was an especially good sister. Any time she heard Phoebe cry out, she was by her side nearly instantly, even though typically, her loyalty-reward from Phoebe was being batted on her little head. Oy, Phoebe, who’re you going to bat around now, just Pat & me? We’ll take it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lesbian Life BCE (Before the Cat Era) and Beyond

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

Crystalizing My Lesbian Identity

The other morning, I was finishing up stretching after my indoor-rowing session in our house in Montclair, New Jersey, in the sunny room downstairs with the triple-glass doors. Just then, Randy Crawford's "Wrap U Up" began playing, according to the algorithmic personalization of the free music that boomed from the black Bose box on the floor.

I sat down in one of the four Carolish-era Herman Miller Eames shell chairs I had inherited when my mom (z"l) died 20 months ago, cracked open a Costco bottle of water and swigged as I looked out into our half-snow-covered garden. Listening to Randy Crawford's molten voice, I remembered a winter-night date more than a quarter of a century ago, back when I was renting an efficiency apartment near Ashland and Addison in Chicago. The apartment wouldn't have had room for a rowing machine, even if I could have afforded one then.

At a friend's party the prior weekend, I had met a tall, Midwest-born-and-bred classical musician with classically beautiful features. Our first date included dancing to late-'80s music in all its glory at a then-popular-and-now-extinct Chicago North-Side lesbian bar. After a marathon of songs, we paused only to go to the multi-stall Ladies Room. I was ready to return to the dance-floor when she kissed me for the first time. Against the sinks, in the bathroom.

"I don't want this in here. It makes it seem dirty." With her graceful hands and tender mouth, she tried to change my mind, but I was repulsed. We were too beautiful to be doing something so gorgeous in such an unappealing place.

"Let's go for a walk," she suggested and I was relieved. We left the club and walked out into sub-zero wind. We walked against the wind all the way to the Lake. No one else appeared to be there in such forbidding weather. I could hear my teeth, tapping together. She smiled at me and took the mitten off of one of my hands, and warmed each one of my fingers, in her mouth.

CE - Cat Era

Thrilling as it had been with the musician, and a number of other remarkable Chicago-area women in my twenties, Pat emerged as the kindest, funniest, most appealing, brilliant and magnetic among them.

Yesterday afternoon, on our way home from an afternoon ride in our station wagon to Chester, New Jersey -- which my wife Pat and I had read was quaint, according to Yelp -- we stopped at a grocery store and I whispered out of the side of my mouth, "Pat, look, sisters." For the first time, she didn't turn to look. We kept walking and I said, "I guess it's no longer such a big deal, huh?" Throughout our nearly 24 years together so far, the term, "sisters", had been code for whenever we thought we saw an apparent couple of two women. It was always exhilarating to be reminded that we weren't alone.

Pat always said I could blog about whatever I wanted, as long as I didn't invade her privacy with my postings, so I'll step gingerly around this point: For our first decade and a half together, I could enjoy intimacy in our relationship practically whenever I wished, and then we adopted two sister-cats, one of whom sleeps with us routinely. (Just ran this paragraph by Pat and she acquiesced to my including it.)

The post-rowing Randy Crawford tune and the book *Carol*, and the movie -- which I felt improved upon the book -- awoke my BCE memories. And then Pat gave me an article by Frank Rich, where he wrote: "Even today, Todd Haynes’s mesmerizing adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel comes as a shock—mostly for how much lesbian culture remains invisible to America at large." 

This post is my humble contribution to increased lesbian visibility.