Recently in adoption Category
Note to readers: This is a mostly personal post, so if you just tune in for the literary things, skip this one. The next several will be bookish.
That said, the Handsome Husband and I are just back from Oberlin, Ohio, a tiny town with excellent little restaurants, a fine new coffeeshop--the Slow Train Café--and the marvelous vintage Apollo theater, all refurbished to its former glory with help from Oberlin alumni. The college's architecture is eclectic and beautiful, and the town has a rich history of activist engagement with progressive and liberatory politics, from the Underground Railroad to women's rights. Lorain, Toni Morrison's hometown, is just to the north. If you're ever in Cleveland for the day, I recommend a quick side-trip to both towns.
All of which is just context for the fact of my heart, which is that we got to spend 5 days with Grey as he went through graduation. Every mother waxes rhapsodic about her children, so I'll just hold my tongue and not rattle on about what a sweet, kind, well-liked, talented young man he is. I'll just say it was wonderful to catch up with him, meet his friends, and observe him in the campus environment that has become his natural habitat these last four years. It was a joy. Leaving him behind was (understatement of the year) a wrench.
However, I'm so glad to report that he has found employment--even if it's just washing dishes in an Oberlin dining hall for the summer. A paycheck is a paycheck, and manual labor is important. Despite the scary unemployment statistics for people in Grey's age bracket, we really didn't want to encourage the failure-to-launch syndrome by making our sofa too inviting, so we're glad it has worked out. At summer's end, he plans to move to a very cool West-Coast city to live with friends and look for work more suited to his interests.
But, fair and tender readers, I had barely unpacked, when it was time to pack again. Due entirely to the generosity of my birthmother, Sharon (whom you might know a little about from The Truth Book), I'm heading out for a voyage across Europe. My brother--not Tony, the one I grew up with and who figures so largely in that abovementioned narrative, but Sharon's son--is about to marry the Italian woman he fell in love with on a study-abroad program twelve years ago. Since then, they've been carrying on a transatlantic romance, and now it's time to make it all official. They'll wed in a church in the tiny Umbrian hill town of San Gemini (which is too small to even show up on any of the maps I've consulted; it's near Terni, if you know the area). It's a fortress town and very old.
Sharon decided to make an odyssey of it, so I'll be flying with her, her husband, and my sister Lisa from Chicago to Amsterdam this Wednesday, then going to Paris, then Genoa, then the Cinque Terre, then Venice, and finally to San Gemini for the nuptial festivities. Heavens! I'm not a person who's traveled very much as an adult--and, if I can confide something a little embarrassing, I've been jonesing for Venice since, as a child in Miami, I was taken to the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, which I found a utopian bliss-scape. It's like longing for Paris because you once saw an imitation of the Eiffel Tower in Vegas; not exactly Jamesian, but there you have it.
So anyway, this is extremely exciting for me. It's an astonishing opportunity, and I'm thrilled.
The places will be, of course, amazing, but the trip itself--the traveling, the being in train cars and hotel rooms--should be very interesting as well, particularly because I'll be rooming with my sister--my half-sister, technically--for over two weeks, and I don't know her well. We didn't grow up together, and from what I do know, we're very different. Very different. In almost every way. (Just to sketch a sense: she's 33, single, and a bartender, whereas I'm 42, long married, and an English professor--the very recipe for staid. I'll say no more.) Yet half of our DNA is the same, and I've always liked her when we've spent brief periods of time together. Two weeks of being roomies, gallivanting across the continent, should be fascinating.
Reports to come (she murmured mysteriously, tossing her red silk dress into her case).
My grandfather passed away on Monday night. He was 88. I never knew him. Rest in peace.
It's a strange, ambivalent, disturbing time. My birthmother would very much like me to trek across the snowy Midwest for his funeral. I am mourning Lucille Clifton, whom I know only through her words, with more real grief.
This is the man who features on page 1 of The Truth Book as the reason my birthmother left her home state to conceal her pregnancy and give birth across the country.
This is the man who, when I met him in my late twenties, was no longer brutal, no longer scary. Yet, while civil enough, he was nonetheless incurious about me, uninterested in forming a connection. We've exchanged perhaps thirty words, total, at gatherings in the years since then. He was very nearly a stranger.
Adoption does weird things to the psyche. When I heard the news of his death, I immediately got shaky, sad, sick--despite the fact that I know my grocer better. When I learned that he died peacefully at home, propped up so he could see the farm he loved, I felt grateful. Some impulses are powerful. Ancestors. Familia.
Yet, although I know it would please his daughters, my birthmother and aunts, whom I care about, I will not be driving cross-country for his funeral service.
Adoption faces one with odd dilemmas. I try not, as a rule, to be unkind. Moreover, I know there's a chance that my absence will be remarked, that I will be the missing cousin, that this failure of loyalty will be remembered and may harm relationships I have no wish to harm.
I don't have a good reason for staying home. Not one that I can articulate yet, anyway. Just a mute, stubborn refusal.
I'm trying to work through this.
As the insane person I apparently am, I decided some time ago to squeeze in a road trip to meet relatives before I head to Boston to teach in the Pine Manor residency. These are relatives I've never seen before: my biological paternal grandmother, aunts, cousins, y más--relatives of my biological father, Len (The Truth Book, p. 1, for those in the know). They're having a Fourth-of-July family reunion, and they generously invited me to come reune with them.
As those of you who've made the trek to meet unknown relatives or an unknown homeland can appreciate, it's an intense, overwhelming sort of thing to experience. (I'm still absorbing the shockwaves from meeting my biological maternal relatives, and that happened over a decade ago!) Anyway, it should be interesting. I'm packing now.
Recently, Heather Sellers was kind enough to share with us her thoughts about writing by hand, and several of you responded. Chris Westerman asked the great question about whether neurological research had been done to see if different parts of the brain are activated by the two different composition processes, and I'm looking into that. To my happy surprise, I also received an email from one of Heather's former students, who wanted to share his own views about the process.
Of course, let me add the caveat that we all know plenty of people who draft beautifully on their laptops--and more power to them. I just wanted to offer this perspective, in case you want to try it out.
Paul Morin graduated from Hope College in May 2009 and will enter Central Michigan University's M.A. English program this fall. He is currently working on a collection of short stories, Michigan Winter. Here's what he has to say:
I am a writing student of Heather Sellers. She mentioned that you were doing
a piece on writing by hand and that I should email you and share why I write
all of my work by hand. The simplest answer is: because it works. When I
write by hand, I am able to go through the scene more slowly and actually
experience what is going on with my characters. When I write on the computer I tend to go too quickly and leave out important parts of the story: the little details that make a story real. The 'Delete' key is the other main
hindrance for me and my writing. The ability to delete my work effortlessly
makes me feel like I have to correct any mistakes then and there or I will
look like an idiot. That takes me out of the image in my head and also
allows me to delete some of the gold from the story. If, on a snap
judgment, I delete something that I think isn't working, then I may never
have the chance to revisit that detail and discover why my subconscious
thought it was important to include. (Case in point. I have deleted and
re-written three sentences in this email already.)
Another big advantage of writing by hand is revision. When I revise, I copy
over a previous work by hand and add or take away depending on what I see.
When I do this by hand, I am able to see more and spend more time
fleshing out the details. When I write on the computer it is way too easy to
just start typing and end up copying everything over word for word.
Something about the pen allows me to make substantial revisions to the point
where a whole other story emerges from the old one. I have never been able
to do anything more than superficial changes on the computer. It is also too
easy for me to be lazy with a computer. For example, I can use the thesaurus
option in Microsoft Word and change all of my verbs, adjectives, etc. and
feel like I have done actual work. When I write by hand, that option isn't
there, and I am forced to go back into the story and re-see everything which
often brings forward things I never would have seen with something like my
I have also noticed a marked change in the work from writers in various
writing groups when they have switched over to hand writing. The work is
fuller, has more energy and is more enjoyable to read. The whole group could
tell when people had switched. We would be reading a story and say,
"Something's different. You changed your style."
Writing by hand allows me to feel more. It makes my work better sooner,
requires less revision, and adds more depth. And in the end, it is faster
than trying to write a quality piece on the computer. To quote Heather, "The
slowest way is the fastest way."
First, apologies to
anyone who was wandering around Bailey Library today looking confused (as I
was) at 3:30 p.m. Bryan Thao Worra's reading had been moved to the
university bookstore, and I hadn't gotten the updated information until it was
Last night, I got to have a lovely dinner with Naomi Shihab Nye at Magnolia (which, I must say, we both thought was pretty wow--the food was great, and they handed us roses when we walked in!), and then we ambled over to Indigo Bridge Books, where owner Kim Coleman had a huge gift-box full of books and other goodies waiting for Naomi. Super nice.
Everyone else has been saying it during Naomi's two-week stint at UNL, and I'll chime in: Naomi's spirit is as beautiful in person as it is on the page. She's a gem and a delight. It was fun and an honor to spend time with her. I only wish I could take her workshop! Those graduate students are cranking out great new work every night.
This Friday morning, Naomi'll be talking at 9:30 a.m. in the Bailey Library about her choice not to become affiliated with an academic institution and how she and other writers have put together various kinds of freelance work. If you're free, do come.
And speaking of Indigo Bridge Books, do you know about their new program, "the table"? Listen up, all you grad students and other underfunded geniuses. Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Indigo Bridge serves soup from Thé Cup and bread from Bread & Cup, and I quote from their brochure:
there are no prices at the table. simply donate what you are able, or what you would like to pay. or "pay it forward" with an hour of service to the community, either with us or elsewhere.
(They're apparently helping to fund the program with money
saved on capital letters.)
(I say this with affection. I just watch too much Daily Show.) So go on out and get you some affordable, organic, vegetarian soup, slow-baked bread, and good company.
Speaking of good company, many thanks to Faye and Jill for their great comments on the earlier post about adoption. Both comments are definitely worth reading, if you missed them--and the blog post Jill links to is great, too. On Jill's point, the issue of the under-heard voices of birthmothers, please let me recommend a great, moving, overwhelmingly sad book that logs the voices of hundreds of birthmothers: artist Ann Fessler's outstanding The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. The book is based on Fessler's staggeringly painful, intimate, honest interviews with these mothers, who are of my own birthmother's generation, and it was hearing their voices (in Fessler's art installation, which includes audiotape of the women speaking) that helped me understand--in a way I'd imagined but never plumbed--the traumatic, ongoing quality of her pain and loss.
It was this experience with Fessler's work a few years ago and then reading the book that really shifted my formerly blithe attitude toward today's overseas adoptions. Fessler, a compassionate and curious adoptee, shares with us the voices, the agony, of U.S. women, finally being heard decades after the fact. Can't we extrapolate? Or do we really have to wait decades before we hear/realize the agony of the women in developing countries whose children have been and are now being adopted?
But read Faye's comment for a fine counterpoint. I really appreciate her generosity and honesty in sharing some of her story with us. This issue is nothing if not complicated. And painful, on all sides.
Okay: for something completely different, this Friday at 7:00 p.m., a little slew of writers will be talking about writing and publishing on a panel at the Barnes & Noble on O Street. I don't have the roster in front of me, but I believe it includes novelists Jonis Agee and Timothy Schaffert, as well as others (I can't remember!). I'll be there.
We don't have questions available to us in advance, so I'm not sure what we'll be saying, but come on out, have a latte, and ask us stuff!
Then this week at the university bookstore, I came across Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption from the very cool South End Press (a favorite), which looks like it addresses some of the same territory. (It looks at both transracial and transnational adoptions.) Here's the description on the back cover:
Healthy white infants are hard to find and expensive to adopt. So white people looking to grow their families turn to interracial and intercountry adoption, often with the idea that they're saving children from terrible lives. But as Outsiders Within reveals, although transracial adoption is generally considered win-win, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and even economic toll.I really like the fact that the contributors are adoptees. When I was growing up, almost everything I encountered about adoption was written from the perspective and comfort zone of the adoptive parent, the (relative) power player in the triad. It erased my perspective and made me wonder why I couldn't get with the program, which was obviously so great and fantastic. As the no-punch-pulled introduction of Outsiders Within explains:
Through gripping essays, poetry, and art, transracially adopted writers and artists from around the world carefully explore this most intimate aspect of globalization.
This book is a corrective action. Over the past fifty years, white adoptive parents, academics, psychiatrists, and social workers have dominated the literature on transracial adoption. These "experts" have been the ones to tell the public--including adoptees--"what it's like" and "how we turn out."I just love the bold, direct stance the book takes--a stance that echoes the voices of multiple transracial and transnational adoptees I heard at the conference of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture a few years ago.
Writes adoptive parent Beth Hall,
Experts on their own experience, the writers of Outsiders Within offer an illuminating and provocative glimpse into the world of transracial [and transnational] adoption that will make many of us uncomfortable. All the more reason to read it.I've always wondered what the world would look like if, instead of spending $10K, $20K, $40K, $60K (!) to adopt a baby from another country, white first-world parents donated that money to organizations in other countries that would help parents keep their own biological children in health and safety and to organizations that would help stabilize those countries' economic and political systems. (I guess there's a link here to the build-a-better-world way I think about immigration, but that's a post for another day.) I hesitate to say this, because I fear I'll alienate my sweet, generous friends who've adopted from abroad, but having experienced maternal bonding with my own son, and the lack thereof in my childhood, I just can't help wondering what's better for the world and its babies. Outsiders Within dares to go there.
I also often feel sad for the many children (of all ethnicities) who go unadopted here in the U.S. because they've been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned at older ages. Instead of finding secure, loving homes, they cycle through our uneven foster-care system, because would-be adoptive parents don't want to take on potential "problem" children. (And of course, many foster parents are wonderful and loving, but foster-care horror stories are too perennial for me to feel good about foster care as an option.)
Also, because I'm cynical, I've often noted with dismay the way some white parents of foreign-born children display their adopted children like a badge of their own political enlightenment. Easy enough to do, I guess, when you're not the one who bears the burden of constant social alienation and when social interactions always include praise for how generous you are.
I've listened to such parents' talks, too, at adoption conferences, so I've heard several people articulate compelling variations on that perspective--yet I'm still troubled by the power dynamic. (On the other hand--I've got to stop being my own devil's advocate!--biological children are entirely as vulnerable to being treated by their parents as Accessory Babies of one kind or another. But back to the topic at hand.) Mostly, I just have a lot of questions.
It's true that love has the capacity to cross all kinds of boundaries, but most of us who've tried it aren't naïve about the difficulties of border-crossing and its inherent potential for damage and explosive conflict. Even while we're crossing, we bring our human limitations, blind spots, and prejudices with us. It's a delicate business, as many of us know. And as any adult adoptee will tell you, it's just not that simple. Outsiders Within is all about the complexities, and I look forward to reading all the voices it includes.
One of the poets in the collection is Laotian-American writer Bryan Thao Worra, who will be giving a reading here at UNL on Wednesday, April 1 in the Bailey Library (second floor of Andrews Hall) at 3:30 p.m.
Thao Worra will also be the keynote speaker at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 2 in the Nebraska Union Centennial Room. His lecture, "Changing Cultures and Preserving Asian Traditions in the Midwest," is hosted by Asian World Alliance, and a dance troupe is performing, too. The doors open at 5:30.
And fyi, also included in Outsiders Within is the essay "Lifelong Impact, Enduring Need" by UNL faculty member John Raible, who has this great blog that focuses on the issue of transracial adoption--and which happens, just now, to include a passage from Outsiders Within in its most recent post.
Today, I actually Googled the title, just to see. It doesn't exist. Maybe it should. . . .
Who dreams up whole titles--with colons? It's true: I am the pinhead my family has long accused me of being.
The film, which has apparently been a labor of love for Helen Hunt, who's been working on it since 1997, is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Elinor Lipman, who shares her thoughts about its conversion into film on her website. (Take note of the timeline, all you writers whose books have been optioned or who are hoping for that.)
I really like the way the film explores the sense of total upheaval that an adoption reunion can bring to your life. As excited and hopeful as you may feel, a reunion is still like an earthquake. It shakes everything. The film captures those chaotic highs and lows.
And it's not like the rest of your life just holds still so you can think about it and deal. The movie does a good job with that aspect, which it represents in a nicely, realistically complex fashion. I'm excited about the way Then She Found Me might bring a better understanding of adoption issues to a mainstream, non-adoption-related audience.
I really liked the unabashed inclusion of the protagonist's Jewish faith, too. Seeing her spirituality presented seriously and with grace made me think about how often Jewishness is depicted in pop culture as inevitably allied with humor, from Woody Allen to Seinfeld to Curb Your Enthusiasm to Jon Stewart's self-deprecating remarks on The Daily Show. As hilarious as those folks can be, I realized how rare it is to see anything different. Good for Helen Hunt.
Though most elements of the film are quite strong, some of the dialogue delivery feels, to me, a bit too much like dialogue, not enough like real talk, but that's a minor quibble, and it only happens in a few scenes. Overall, the movie's terrific. Here in Lincoln, it's showing at The Ross, but only until this Thursday.
If you go, prepare to think and be moved.