Saturday, April 21, 2012


In blogland, and in life, I have been used as a scapegoat more times than I wish. I am different, as I wrote about earlier today. I celebrate my differences, but other people--not always so much. Depends on the environment.

It is easy for groups of people, rattled and nervous, to find an individual, or groups of individuals, to blame for their collective discomfort. To label them, mock them, and send them out into the wilderness. Especially when not sending them would mean shaking or rebuilding the entire foundation of one's belief systems.

I read a very, very smart blog post on scapegoating today that resonated deeply with me, especially in the aftermath of the Circle of Moms disaster and the ensuing blaming and entitlement. Not that the wise critique and analysis couldn't apply equally well to other "discussions" I've had with people who like to tell me that my life, as I've experienced it, just couldn't have been experienced that way. There's no data! I made it up! I am hysterical! Newborn babies cannot tell who their mothers are! (Sorry, I had to throw that last one in there.) I appreciated the reminder, how in the end of the Biblical story, wandering in the wilderness, the goat was able to shake off all the burdens and walk free. It turned out well, after all the suffering. At least it didn't get its throat slit. Good on you, Goat.

I am linking to the smart post, over at What a Shrink Thinks. Have a read, and let me know what you think. Sheep need not apply. Just kidding! Sort of. I don't mean to hurt sheep feelings, but...

And in honor of Tim Clark's new appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelites, here's William Holman Hunt's odd and creepy 1854 painting, "The Scapegoat."It being a Pre-Raphaelite painting and all, an the way those men were obsessed with painting from life, I am certain that goat was spoiled!

Embrace the marginal

When I started my blog years ago, I had no idea how deeply the concept of living on the margins would weave itself through my life. I loved marginalia; I felt marginalized within the Midwestern community in which I grew up; I was an American living in England; I studied a field in art history that couldn't garner much respect on a good day; I was adopted. I was scrappy about all of it, and always felt that no matter what, the margins were beautiful--even when my existence was difficult. I don't feel uncomfortable where I am anymore, and I forget that others feel intensely uncomfortable when they are reminded that they are anywhere near my bad 'hood. They denigrate the margins so concertedly that they can't bear to think that they, or anyone they love (read: adoptees), have anything to do with such a place.

The other day I was reading a series of essays by Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World. I am enjoying exploring being half Spanish. I have felt an odd pull towards Catholicism since forever (must be the Inquisition in my blood). I have been to Santiago de Compostela on my pilgrimage and want to return, more than anything. I love the idea of Iberian history, the mix of Arabs and Celts and Greeks and Romans and indigenous cultures. Then languages and ideas. I want to know if, and how, I fit into all this. I don't have a real answer, and may never. But I felt a moment of recognition when I read this: "a constant of Spanish culture, as revealed in the artistic sensibility, is the capacity to make the invisible visible by embracing the marginal, the perverse, the excluded." 

Okay, you say. This platitude could be applied to Hogarth's paintings of street urchins, or medieval marginalia, or many other examples from European art. It's not dissimilar from Tim Clark's "Never...more..." goings on. But yet Fuentes's focus on the margins isn't without merit. Knowing Spain's geographical placement on the margins of Europe, and how Spain's contributions to larger European conversations about art and politics have, by and large, been denigrated for one reason or another since the 16th century, what he says makes sense, even if it is written too broadly. 

Why do you think, for God's sake, that Franco was such an asshole? LOL Fuentes's comment draws me to the brilliance of Del Toro's gorgeous film, Pan's Labyrinth. Yes, Del Toro is Mexican, but the film is all about Spain and its past and its odd sense of the perverse and the mythological and the marginal. It's a brutal story about a little girl lost, thrust to the margins, who negotiates a path around the dangerous shadow of her stepfather, who would rather have her dead. She must discover her own beauty in living her story. 

Which brings me to why I believe certain APs and first parents have problems with some of us. When we are told that there's an appropriate "time and place" to speak out, it's because they don't want to deal with our message, or it has to be on their terms, in the light of whatever narrative they have constructed for us. Problem is, our stories cannot be neatly boxed up. Adoption colors our lives. Why are our lives considered appropriate topics only for a certain place and time? When they say, "adoption isn't controversial," "adoptive families aren't a sensitive topic," well, perhaps, except that the APs make them that way through their protestations. Adoption becomes controversial when they deny that there are trajectories, voices, experiences other than the ones they like to hear: the light, bright, sunny ones that fit their idea of what is "appropriate." Suppression of those on the margins is terrible, unconscionable. 

When APs say, "I feel marginalized," and that such feelings makes them uncomfortable, but then they put me down at the same time, I don't have a lot of sympathy. 

As an AP, you wonder and moan, how are you bearing the put downs? You can brush them off; they aren't (usually) meant for you. Your children cannot do so quite as easily.

The margins can be dark, can be scary. Especially if you've never had to live there. Why would anyone want to live there, you think? Let's just say there are no margins, you decide, and be done with them! Let's say adoption is not controversial, and make it so! 

It doesn't work that way. I am not you. I don't have the privilege of being born and raised by the same family. Even if I had been, I might still live on the margins (remember, I am told by every second person how hard it was being raised by "biological" parents who didn't love them, whom they didn't resemble, whom they never felt at home with, ad nauseam). I don't know. I can't know about a path not taken. I still like to think that I'd be compassionate about the experiences of others instead of being against them, simply because listening to different viewpoints makes me uncomfortable.

People are mean. They will always parse words, judge, be less than supportive. You know what? Love what you do, who you are, and pick your cause. If your cause is adoptees, then don't tell adoptees that their voices aren't worth listening to because they're "negative" and "marginal"! There will always be a spectrum of opinions. 

Adoption, as an institution, is broken. It truly is. We can work together to look at it critically and reform it. But to deflect from the real issues, and try to say that the attitude problems lie with "adult adoptees," or "anti-adoption adult adoptees" is to throw out red herrings and direct attention away from where it belongs: reform! 

Can you face your own fears? See that it's not about worrying about how you feel, but about how your children feel? Understand that maintaining the status quo of adoption reinforces terrible abuses of people and power?

Thursday, April 19, 2012


There have been many uncomfortable happenings of late. While everything continues happily apace with my families, I have been struck by different bouts of oddness and misfortune that have left me strangely mute over the past month.

A few weeks back I wanted to write a post about my choice not to pursue my career in art history, having read a review of an exhibition by one of the aged luminaries who used to grace my department in graduate school. I felt, and read, in his words some of the malevolence that used to seep through and poison my professional life. He and I would disagree, vehemently, about British art being acknowledged as a field worth studying. He would dismiss it out of hand as "nothing of note, perhaps tolerable from Hogarth to Turner, and excepting Turner." I could psychoanalyze T.J. Clark's self-hatred to death, and have done, but it's not that interesting. He definitely wishes he were French, which he isn't, and loves being snide about Americans, which pisses me off no end. 

I remember a terrible dinner conversation he and I had, after a wonderful trip I took to India. I was fortunate enough to be in a department that had grant money to allow graduate students to study abroad, sometimes far abroad. One of my graduate advisers took eight students to do fieldwork amongst the "medieval" temples of Bhubaneswar, in Orissa. Professor W assigned us each a temple to research and write about, and then upon our return from India, we presented our work to the department and everyone went out to celebrate the tamasha at a fancy dinner. I cannot remember where, but I do remember I had the grave misfortune to be seated with Tim Clark and another professor whose name I will not speak for fear of conjuring the devil, she is so foul (she is one of his would-be clones, very bombastic, and much like a Rottweiler in behavior and appearance). 

In any case, I was young and naive in 1996. I was honestly puzzled about why Tim would be so anti-British art. I asked him why he told his students there was nothing worth looking at in the UK that wasn't by a Continental artist or imported from 1940's New York (mind you, I was writing my dissertation at the time on 19th century British design and Empire and intellectual history). I was also one of his Graduate Student Instructors for the survey course, Renaissance to Modern, that semester, and he was trying out a new way of teaching (i.e., he was bored with the teleology--Piero della Francesca to Michelangelo to Velasquez to Poussin to David to Delacroix to the Impressionists to Cezanne to Picasso to Pollock--but not really bored enough to reconsider it altogether) that involved starting with the Impressionists and looking at the history of art as a means of explaining *their* achievements. Again, I have nothing against French art, just against the way the department in Berkeley lionizes France to the exclusion of most other histories. (As in the person they hired to teach the Baroque specializes in a French painter living in Italy, fuck the Dutch and the Flemish and the Germans and the Italians, and who also happened to be married to another professor--the incestuous thing is another sordid conversation, entirely; the department at one time had about three involved couples. And don't EVEN ask about Latin American, African, or African-American art. Just forget it.) Anyway, Tim, the would-be-demigod, basically spent half an hour telling me why my work and my project was shit. How lovely and supportive! The answer, as I see it now, is that Tim Clark is a narcissist who loves art history--no, who loves the canon. He purses his lips for the canon's bright Boucher ass and always will. He is smart but can also be a very lazy thinker. Every lecture of his would have a "Never has X been more X like..." statement in it, which tend to be bland and often hilarious. One of my favorites, about Manet's Olympia: "Never has a cat looked more cat-like." Whatever that means. I learned to be on the lookout for Tim's "Never...more.." moments each Tuesday and Thursday, and I would invariably share them with Thomenon, my fellow outcast, so we could giggle about them in our otherwise painful existence.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that Tim retired (sans his wish to be feted and given the MacArthur Fellowship--boo hoo!) and moved back to England, where his wife (another retired professor) is now a curator at the Tate Modern. Tim occasionally writes reviews or florid self-referential things about Poussin for the London Review of Books, and I read them amusedly. In general. But in an issue from March, I found my ire resurrected by a review of an exhibition detailing Picasso's influence on English artists of the 20th century. 

I smiled to find the "Never...more..." sentence: "Never has a picture's literalness, its mere and proud materiality, been staged more eloquently." If you have no idea which painting he could possibly be referring, that's because it could be pretty much any fecking picture that Tim likes. Las Meninas? Sure. Olympia? Why not? Death of Marat? Definitely. 

But the shit that truly resurrected my blood pressure problems and PTSD involved shit about ludicrously stupid American students and how 19th-century English art is not great, but not all that bad. I refuse to believe that the old ass has changed his mind about ANYTHING. No, he just knows he cannot slam the Brits to an audience of British readers and get away with it. "I do not think, to go back a century, that anyone in Britain was capable of responding to the achievement of Turner [Wait! So now Turner's worthwhile? Since when?--Ms. M]. This no doubt set limits on the painting that followed (the fact that Monet and others in France were capable is one clue to their painting culture's strength), but it did not mean that the Pre-Raphaelites, to name his main inheritors, were in any sense an evasive or secondary movement."[WHAT?!? Are you on drugs, Tim Clark?--Ms. M

I suppose, in one sense, I get the last laugh. He's a sellout for money, silly old "Marxist." I considered sending him an e-mail to congratulate him on how much he's evolved, even deigning to write about things British. But he's not worth it. I wouldn't want him to think that I actually cared.

It took me a few days to sort out my tangled web of frustration, exaltation, anger, and disgust, resulting from this reopening of my youthful wounds, but a fabulous venting session with Thomenon helped. I had watched my career sink because Tim Clark refused to spend money or support people writing on such frivolous subjects as "non-art" in Britain. Oh well. I don't regret leaving art history, and his self-perjuring review just strikes home how much happier I am now.

My tender, sandpapered soul was further irritated in a drive-by Berkeley moment of aggressive misogyny. I was at lunch with a friend of mine from nursing school, who works in an intensive care unit. She and I see terrible things, including mistakes, and deal with asshole doctors, and generally have very high-pressure jobs. She and I understand each other's work milieux and can vent. It's great to have supportive friends. Apparently, however, a 60-something man eavesdropped on us and was disturbed by something (everything?) we said. As I mentioned above, we see some awful shit. And as in adoption, many people don't like to think that the medical field has a soft underbelly that can literally be rotten. Or that the doctors or nurses don't do their jobs properly, or don't necessarily have their loved ones' best interests at heart because they're having a bad day, are lazy, have low blood-sugar, or what-have-you. The man got up from his table, made to leave the restaurant, and then came to our table to spit at us: "You should stop gossiping and do something to change sub-optimal care." He then ran away, without giving us a chance to respond. 

What an odious person! First, we were talking about work, not gossiping. I suppose he never sits around with friends from work, or within his industry, and talks about how things could be better. He clearly said what he did because my friend and I are women, not because we were gossiping. Second, how does he know that K and I didn't file incident reports about some of the situations we described? He doesn't. (And I did.) He felt uncomfortable about something we'd said (our frustration with patient care, or doctors--I cannot venture to guess because he didn't stay to talk) and scapegoated us for his discomfort. If he were truly interested in bringing about change in the healthcare arena, he could have engaged in dialogue. But no, he was afraid and judgmental and ran away, like a little boy throwing a stone or calling a name. His behavior triggered the hell out of me because of the bullying I was at the butt-end of as a child, and because of his desire to trivialize me, but then I realized that he was unreasonable. His behavior speaks only about HIM, not me, especially because he was such a chicken shit and was going by only what he overheard, which was incomplete information. Third, why the hell would anyone consider it appropriate to offer editorial comment on a conversation to which he wasn't privy? Asshole. Wow, the world is full of assholes, isn't it?

Which brings me to the Circle of Moms debacle; see Linda's brilliant post, "Circle of Morons" that spells it out. I won't bother blogging about the fracas in detail, but suffice it to say that the dominant group once again sought to have adoptee voices and first mother voices shut out of conversation. What does it mean when a first mom is sent an e-mail disqualifying her from competition because her blog was deemed not "supportive" or "positive" enough? Who gets to define what those words mean, and to whom? Rhetorical question, of course. I think we know quite well who gets to define terms, and who are the scapegoats when the dominant powers are challenged, as Daniel wrote very eloquently, here, about the dominant voice co-opting the resistant voice and screaming, "I am the victim here!" Then the competition was shut down after more complaints and APs' false brayings of hardship related to those "anti-adoption" blogs that aren't anti-adoption so much as pro-reform (although reform is scary to some APs; it could mean fewer children available for adoption. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Discuss for 10 extra credit points--LOL). Maybe that's how we should cast ourselves--pro-reform--to avoid the negativity they attempt to cast upon us. I, for one, am sick of being labeled as "angry" and "bitter." Let's slip out from underneath their paper-cut-out portrayals of us! 

The great thing that came out of the COM debacle was that so many people stood behind Cassi, the mom who had been disqualified, and that when the contest was cancelled, my dear friend Amanda over at The Declassified Adoptee won! 

I am also saddened by APs who refuse to see/admit/understand that adoptees will be called "bastards" by some people, even if the APs don't like it. I was speaking with Joy today about our experiences related to having people tell us their unvarnished opinions of adoptees when they don't know we are adoptees (and even sometimes when they do), and it's not pretty. I have been told that people wouldn't adopt because it's like getting a mutt at a shelter with no history, and who would do that? Plus, you cannot just return a "bad" child. Or "I could never love a child I didn't bear as my own," or "Bastards need to be grateful for what they get; their parents are all trash." Yes, real quotes from people I have met at different places of employment, one from my MIL, and one from a classmate. Yikes! To pretend that everyone loves adoptees is naive, especially when you're not an adoptee, and you're not the one being hissed at when no adults (or other adults) are present. I am sure that some adoptees have never had experiences like these, and they are fortunate, if so. But to say it can't/won't happen is beyond irresponsible. 

It is also sad to read the ravings of willfully ignorant people who say that they've never heard of "anti-adoption" bloggers or activists before, or worse, THIS: "OK so I'm not the only one who didn't realize anti-adoption was a thing. I guess I'm glad most people don't know that! We have adoption stories on my and my husband's side of our family and I will cut a bitch who tries to say something bad about it. Or about any adoptive families." How very civil of you to threaten violence, Crazy Lady! If you haven't heard of something before, perhaps you ought not be congratulating yourself, but doing some soul-searching and thinking, instead. How about considering why pro-reform activists might hold those opinions, rather than blindly accepting the status quo? Oh yes, I know. No one wants to think or read or step outside their comfort zone. Oh, *eye roll* and being deleted from someone's blog roll is hardly the same as a contest being cancelled. The former is a personal choice--maybe not linking to you is because you don't agree about most things. I take it that you, poor Wounded One, wield the same power to cherry pick your blog roll? I am not crying a river that I am not on yours, although by your argument I could call that "censorship." No, it isn't. LAME. Blogs and businesses (COM, for instance) are different entities. The latter arena, COM, is supposed to be an open, free group, the contest with no predetermined outcome. It's pitiful that the whining of some bruised AP egos shut the whole thing down, just as it's terrible that they disqualified Cassi's blog without defining the terms "positive" and "supportive" in the contest rules before it all began. It stinks to high heaven of insecurity and bullshit on the part of APs who don't like the pro-reform message, as witnessed in the screen shots on Linda's blog.

If I hear, moreover, one more time that "most adoptees are happy," I will scream. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. There's no study that gives us precise numbers or is able to quantify happiness. Yes, yes, I know all about the Likert Scale, and yet many of the studies out there are designed in ways that reinforce the status quo; the questions are all about certain views of happiness; and the adoptee samples are small and suspect. I would have to hear from at least a million adoptees and have more than a simple majority tell me that they're happy before I would buy the "MOST" adoptees are happy propaganda being reamed down my throat by the Rainbow Police.

Yes, we all have unique experiences. Yes, some people are happy. I am quite sure of it. But to say that only the "happy" voices should be valued or counted? That's bias. And no more speaking for cousins, brothers, sisters, in-laws, hairdressers, or other acquaintances. I don't care what *you* say adoptees say. I care what adoptees say. 

To add to the blistering frustrations, my cat died. She had disappeared for two weeks, and I thought she'd passed away. It turned out, however, that a neighbor had decided that my home wasn't the right home for an 18-year-old cat, and she was being kept hostage an indoor cat. By them. They just took her. WTF? Sounds like certain APs, to me, with savior complexes. My family was mourning and doing our best to cope, and my husband told our German neighbor about our loss. He said, "Selkie? No, she's very much alive and at number 105." So Mark went over there and asked them to bring her to us when she came by their house. Because we didn't think they'd just keep her. Two days passed, then on Easter evening, the woman brought her over and lectured me on geriatric cat care and how my house, with two small boys and a dog, wasn't as good for my cat as *her* house. Huh? I asked why she hadn't called me when there was a number on my cat's ID tag, if she was so concerned, and, as she said, if she had "no idea" to whom Selkie belonged. [I don't buy her "innocence" for a moment: we moved into our home five years ago, and I know for a FACT that our neighbor knew she was ours. She used to watch me carry Selkie into my house as I would get ready to leave for work in the afternoons.] The neighbor looked down her nose at me, in my own home, and said, "I couldn't read it." I was perplexed, as the tag was newish, but figured that it could have been made dull by Selkie's outdoor exploits (it wasn't). The neighbor asked if I still wanted my cat. Again, WTF? I answered that of course I did, but that my indoor-outdoor cat had a mind of her own and it was her choice to roam where she liked. I knew I couldn't keep her away from the neighbors' home, so if Selkie liked it there, okay. It was just the blatant judgment, lying, and intense ownership ideas that drove me crazy. 

I took my cat from her, she left with a hard glint in her eye, and I cried. Selkie and I spent three glorious days together, and she came and went as usual. Then Selkie disappeared for three more days, and I worried that I'd have to go ask this couple for her back again. I was anxious and sick about the confrontation. What made them think they could just keep her? How was I going to (could I?) keep my cat inside for the rest of her life? She was miserable and howled and scratched if confined longer than 12 hours. She was a free spirit.

Mark and I strategized, and then I saw the couple outside before I went to work on the fourth day. I explained that I hadn't seen her and asked if they had. They said that they had, the day before. I asked them to call me if they saw her, and the said that they would. I wondered. Then another neighbor, someone I trust and in whose garden Selkie loved to play, called and said that she had found Selkie's body. She had apparently laid down to sleep and passed away, under her favorite rose bush, surrounded by violets. I was heartbroken, but I knew that day would come. Now confronted with her actual death, we are coping well, but I cannot help but wonder why these neighbors felt it appropriate to take my cat and then lecture me and question me about my ownership and even LOVING her, after 16 years. They may well love her, but their love of a month or two doesn't trump my lifetime of devotion to her. Entitlement, much?

What is up with crazy people who feel that it's okay to insert themselves into situations, take things, mock, and be assholes? Why do they give such weight to their voices and desires and needs that they allow no one else the room to speak? Why must they win every battle? Why do they put their own comfort ahead of their children (as in APs who tell their adopted children that they came from the cabbage patch, to avoid talking about sex and childbirth)? 

One little word: insecurity. It will ruin your life and drive you mad and cause you to do harmful things to others until you can put it aside. 

Sometimes life is uncomfortable. Sometimes things are hard. Sometimes we don't get what we want. That's okay, and part of learning to be a grownup. It's how we handle ourselves that speaks for who we are, most deep in our souls. I try every day to live ethically. Some days I am better at this than others, but it is terrible, painfully terrible, to have the anxious sandpaper of these insecure people rubbing me (and people I love) raw in interactions. 

Yes, we all have voices, but please stop denigrating the voices of others and saying, "I understand you, and you are nothing." You really don't understand if you say anything of the sort. 

In my recent time of great change and sadness, I contacted two of the people whom I have loved most fiercely to give them news. One after three years, one after twelve years to say that Selkie had died. I put myself out there, trying hard not to expect much in return, and feeling that even if I got no reply, I would be all right. I have many people who do love me, and that's okay. I was surprised and felt very warm inside to have both of these people express happiness and concern, and respond right away. I think I always felt that once I am gone from someone's everyday life, I am gone from his heart and memories, as well. This isn't true, of course, but that's the legacy of erasure I deal with. It felt lovely to have someone tell me, apropros of reuniting with my family, "Best news I have heard in a long time. Glad you have found happiness." And from the man with whom I was so good on paper, and with whom I had adopted Selkie all those years ago: "Thanks for this. You must have taken incredibly good care of Selkie. She must have been about 18, right? She was a magnificent cat. If you have any pictures you'd be willing to share, I'd love to see them." 

I matter--my voice matters--the little things and the people make all the difference. I remember when W, the long-ago boyfriend, held me as I wept, trying to digest those 12 pages of non-identifying information about my first family. W and I had broken up, but I had no one else to whom I was willing to bare my soul in such a gut-wrenching way. He didn't fail me then, and didn't now. 

It is humbling to be loved. I am fortunate to have so many people who are worthy of my trust and love, as well, and everyone else--pffft. I will always stand up for adoptees, though! Adoptees and our families are strong together, if we are respectful of one another's messages and voices.