Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Finding Meaning in Chaos

The past few days have been rough, but I always forget the hands of the gods, or angels, or of serendipity. Whatever you want to call it, things do change. I am blessed by a circle of amazing people who never stop giving me something to do, or love, or hope for. Well, sometimes just doing isn't enough. It's that I want to love. I feel that my capacity to love is dead, or that I am too alone, or that I will never have my love reciprocated. And then, just as I feel there is no hope, something changes. It's truly uncanny.

When I was in New York, Nalini was telling me how horribly sad she was that my nmother and brother have such incredible power to make me feel the worst possible despair. I agree that it seems wrong, counterintuitive, and terrible that two people can pull me down when hundreds more love me and pull me in an opposite direction. I was pondering this, and thought maybe this was because I am not in another relationship in which I feel anchored and safe in the same way, or perhaps in which I feel I know about the core of me, that part of me that I try so hard to take care of on my own but cannot support all by myself. I wish I could, but it's the kind of love you need in order to feel tied to humanity. You can't hold yourself in that way, you just can't. Well, maybe some people can, but I can't. Or maybe I could if I had this other connection. It's hard to put into words, precisely because it's preverbal, maybe beyond words.

Anyway, I'd been fighting upstream against this despair for over a week, even with the help of my aparents, when C called me. We had an amazing talk, and she supported me in such a way that I was all of a sudden back on my feet. It was unbelievable. I can't explain it, but she was able to offer a hand to help me stand up, dust off, and get on with things that no one else could. I spent the rest of the day wondering, again, why she could do this when no one else could. Again, I think it's because the lost child inside me WANTS her so very badly. She validated my pain and gladly listened. It meant everything, everything, everything to me. Certainly, I would love to get to the place where I could do this to myself; that is, help myself stand up. But my wounds and problems suffuse more parts of my life than I can count. For now, I will take the little victories and welcome my mother's helping hand.

Monday afternoon, I went on to see my artist friend, who is moving to Philadelphia. He cut and colored my hair one last time before his big move; as usual, he offered sage advice on everything in my life, and more excitingly, he invited me to participate in his next project wearing my art historian hat. I will write an "article" about a period room he is creating, and then situate that room, and him, within the history of art and masculinity. It's a creative essay more than an article, as his period room is going to be a creative critique; so I get to think about all of my fave Arts and Crafts homosocial circles, pull my books off my shelf, and write for fun! I love that my friend has given me a job and an outlet to take my mind off all the Sturm und Drang in my life, and I don't have to be orthodox art historical, either, which I would abhor. It's about being arch and witty and making connections and doing what I love. Now that I can do. I love you, emmett!

And on another front, my friend Greensunflower has been helping me, as well, getting me out of the house, feeding me, showing me solidarity in the cold, hard light of the crazy. I love being in the company of the best and brightest. So we're a little off our rockers? It means we're also great empaths.

One of these days, I will get there. One step at a time, I will find my way there. It's a group project. Don't cash in your bets quite yet. I have decided not to give up. The universe is pulling for me. I can feel it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Walking the line

I have been mulling over the seeming impossibility of really talking about what it is to be adopted, and the feelings related to being adopted, with some people who are invested in the system to such a degree that they simply refuse to listen. Those who have read my blog over the past year are aware of "debates" about the primal wound, or ways in which adoptees are demeaned in "conversation" through various epithets I've mentioned: "bitter," "angry," "angsty," "ruined by a bad childhood." And of course, the parting shot: "MY adoptee won't grow up to be like YOU." The same tired arguments are rehearsed, over and over, in which adults (namely adult adoptees) are robbed of our agency by those who speak for adoptees they claim they know, or for their rights to be parents at all costs, or for "science."

I have been engaging in discussion with Daniel Ibn Zayd, an activist adoptee living in Beirut, about the difficulties and frustrations in trying to work within the existing framework of the hellagon and dominant culture, and he has agreed to let me post some of our conversations on my blog as food for thought. I would love to hear what other adoptees have experienced in terms of trying to be heard; what works, and what doesn't. How do we change things? How radical do we need to be?

For more information about Daniel, his projects, passions, and thoughts, visit his blog. Join the dialogue!

"This is because the native intellectual has thrown himself greedily upon Western culture. Like adopted children who only stop investigating the new family framework at the moment when a minimum nucleus of security crystallizes in their psyche, the native intellectual will try to make European culture his own." Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Kara: I have been thinking much about the quote from Fanon that you shared, and I think it resonates deeply with the problems that we encounter in online discussions with APs, first parents, other "advocates," and even with other adoptees. 

At the time of our adoptions, we are stripped of our histories, our identities, everything. In your case, also of your culture, your language, and your religion. So (most of) us cling to the structure/language we're given to make sense of our experiences. This is the ideology of the dominant society, controlled by the industry, and in which our APs and first families function (or are encouraged to function). This is the world of Positive Adoption Language, the "good" adoptee, etc. It is the place in which we will be secure if we do as we are told. We can make this our own, and use it, but if we challenge it, we lose our paternalistic "protection" and our Otherness is immediately called into question. We are labeled as being "out of line," "different," and "aberrant." The "Not Us." If we have our own needs and and wants, or if we assert our own rights as adopted individuals, these are seen as non-existent, precisely because we are defined as Other. At most we are granted the "right" to our OBCs, but even that is suspect to many.

For example, I recently engaged in a feminist discussion about adoption and the rights of our (supposedly closeted) mothers were again and again seen as trumping the rights of adult adoptee WOMEN. How could this be, unless we were Other, and thus outside the circumscribed limits of the society in question? 

Those adoptees who are feted and rewarded are precisely those who adapt and praise and use the language and social customs and terms and social codes provided by the dominant culture. In order not to be rejected by the "family of man," so to speak, they agree to play within the given rules. While I concede that some adoptees may certainly feel happy to live within the existing paradigm, the existence of these happy adoptees isn't a reason to sanctify the existence of a failed structure that actively harms other adoptees by pathologizing their experiences.

You have, elsewhere, suggested that it is impossible for us to engage in true, productive dialogue because with an offhand remark, those in power, those unwilling to admit the power they have, are able to denigrate our position. There is no level playing field. Such is the ploy of labeling adoptees in discussions. The end message is that we are outliers, and that "normal, decent" adoptees don't grow up to be like us. It isn't in their interest to talk to us as equals, and so they don't. There isn't room for it in the model we have.

There is no listening. It is intensely frustrating. What are your thoughts? Are we too bound up as commodities to have voices?

Daniel: You've summed up our condition to a T. This is endlessly upsetting to me. I see it even beyond our condition, for example, in the thesis papers my students are forced to write they must conform their way of thinking to the dominant norm. This is a game of controlling output. I see it like constantly being patted back into position, as if we were wind-up toys. As long as we head in the right direction, then all is well. But the more we persist in trying to get away from the norm, and here what you are saying is really astute, ***knowing all the time that our very movements (our words) do not have a potential for freedom*** because we are still "controlled", the more we are knocked back into place. With time, that reaction just becomes increasingly violent.

I think what I resent most is the fact that I was removed from one group and placed with another, and by virtue of being raised with them, cannot communicate with anyone but the latter group. As I assimilate more (assimilate is not the right word; integrate perhaps) I am more and more loath to engage with the latter group, but this is where my job is, this is where my family and friends are, this is the language of the Internet and all of my communication is stuck there. I don't want to live one more bourgeois moment of my existence, and this is killing me. Because to truly step down from my position would mean completely severing myself from the world I have known my whole life.

For Ramadan I am reading this really great book on the Imam Ali (pbuh), called Justice and Remembrance. I'm more and more into liberation theologies, these places where radical ideas intersect with reality on the street. When I first got here, I used to use Marxist terms with the guys in my neighborhood, and the were immediately tagged onto political parties--"only such and such a group talks like that". When I match these terms with relevant terms from the Qur'an, then something interesting starts to happen, and a discussion is opened.

I guess what I am saying is that if we spend all our time trying to "walk out of line" like a little wind-up toy, we are going to go crazy. We need to seek out those who are outside of our circumstance and this structure if you will, and engage in order to get ***their*** voice heard. In doing so, our voice will be lifted as well.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


I have slid back into the pit. It's sad how this happens. Unexpected, slippery, mean. I forget sometimes how near I live to the precipice until I fall in, and then the battle starts over again. Depression is not a party game. I liken it to poison that spreads through my body and makes it difficult for me to breathe.

I went to New York last week with my friend Nalini, who was excited to share an adventure with me and to encourage me to take care of myself. What's not to enjoy? But somehow, I ended up sad to the last fiber of my body, tears pouring down my face, wanting to die, sitting in the center of Times Square just before midnight. It's amazing how being in the middle of people can make me feel like such a non-human.

I was reading Von's post over at Lost Daughters today, and was immediately struck by this sentence:
"Adoptees too may not always understand the triggers and as most of you can state from your own experience, they arrive unbidden, unexpectedly and unsurprisingly when we sometimes least expect it or are prepared for it."

I couldn't have said it better myself. I should have been enjoying myself, with a dear friend, and yet I was a complete mess. [I did manage to love The Book of Mormon, which cheered me up no end. Thanks, Trey and Matt. Now if only I could learn to do the following.]

What is going on with me? Rationally, I look at my life and I have done very well for myself--on the surface. But there is still that massive black hole called depression: yes, it has a genetic component, and yes, adoption is hellaciously involved in its exacerbations. Then another friend tells me that it's because I've educated myself within an inch of my life and carry those scars with me, too. You don't survive graduate school at Berkeley with its beatings and not have damage. Moreover, no one wants to hear me babble on about literature and art. Well, pretty much nobody. I could tease out a thousand reasons why things suck. And still it just hurts. Maybe it's the Topamax talking. It does cause suicidal thoughts in 1 in 500 people. That would be my luck.

So I have been curled up in the fetal position for about four days, wondering why I was ever born, wishing I hadn't been, and thinking it's all been a huge fucking cosmic mistake. The world would have been a better place without me: my mother would have been happier, I would have been happier not to bear the burden of eternal rejection, etc. Of course, my friends and family feel insulted when I speak this way, but there is no rationality in madness. It just is. I can fake things for a while, and then it all becomes too much of an act. It's hard work to pretend to be happy. And no, I don't want my cross in life to be bearing the burden of rejection. It fucking sucks. It doesn't make me a better person to "rise above" it. I am tired. Wake me up when there's a pill that helps make you impervious to rejection.

One more thing before I resume the fetal position: over at FMF, someone wrote in the comments that "on a [rejection] scale of one to ten I rate the experience of being given up for adoption a fifteen." I wholeheartedly concur.  

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


I have been marveling at the way I am healing, but also feeling more than a little frustration. Here is what my wrist looks like at six weeks out.

It's definitely still swollen. I cannot flex it worth a damn. I am fighting against the metal plate that's in there, but I am giving it all I have. The scar doesn't look bad. It just needs time. Both my primary care doctor and a friend who's a psychiatrist said to me, "Wow, it looks like you tried to kill yourself." All I could say was,"Not this time."

It's too neat a job for that, anyway. I think my surgeon would be offended to think his work was compared to a slice and dice. I don't think I'll tell him what they said. I don't want to hurt his feelings

So I got to thinking about scars and wounds and healing. And how you get over things, and how it takes time. How scars mean that you've been through something and emerged on the other side. They're a visual marker of past trauma on the body.

My friend just returned from Cambodia, and my scar made me think of him and his writing project on trauma, the legacy of the Vietnam War, and visual culture in Southeast Asia and its diaspora. We had a great heart-to-heart yesterday, and he told me about some amazing moments he had at a conference in which people were horrifically out of line. He now has the status and power to put them in their place. When a white woman declared that she IS the authority on Khmer masculinity, although she isn't fluent in Khmer, and hasn't done a lot of fieldwork, my friend stood up and said, "White woman, go home!" I hope she was well shamed. White people need to understand that political and cultural colonialism is over. Check your ego at the door, and think about your power. Yes, you have it. My friend and I had some very interesting talks about power and agendas and narratives, and he sympathized with what's been going on in adoptoland and the narrative controlling. Race is always, always, always the elephant in the room.

Then he and I were reminiscing about our younger years, and he said, "Remember when I said that I was eccentric? I was lying. I was crazy. You and I are both crazy. And you know why we're crazy? It's not our fault. It's THEM. The rest of the world makes us this way. With all their incessant bullshit and ignorance. Don't worry, darling. You're fine." It's true. All of his friends are batshit crazy. Never a dull moment. I am honored to be in such exalted company.

Back to painful tendon stretching and True Blood. And craziness. And maybe some Dumas, for some ideas on retribution. Just kidding. Sort of.