Tuesday, August 21, 2012


In some ways, adoption seems like a huge Orwellian scheme to mess with people, primarily adoptees. I should mention that Orwell was an AP who didn't want his son to know his natural family, and burned their names off his son's adoption papers. And for that, I am unimpressed.

I am a big fan of George Orwell the writer, however, and the way he thought. He was brilliant (although I don't always agree with him), and I have read with pleasure everything from his novels to his accounts of living with elephants in Burma to the "charms" of English food.

His diaries, edited by people I admire, have just been published in one volume, and I look forward to reading them in toto. A review published in the New York Times last Friday cited Orwell, with his usual wit and exactitude, summing up the way the world was heading:

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever."

I would wish that we could change this stark, brutal image, but given the inability of many people to value education, to think, or to have compassion for those different from themselves, I don't have much hope.

You can read parts of Orwell's diaries, serialized in blog form, here.

Sea Change

I have decided to change my name, wholesale.

I was not given a name when I was born, just the throwaway "Baby Girl Newman."

The name my parents gave me, "Kara Jane Olsen," never really suited me, and I have blogged before about how people use "Kara" to abuse me by mispronouncing it. I. Am. Done. With. Abuse.

I don't like my married name, for a multitude of reasons, even though there is a funny etymological story attached to it. It's impossible (or seemingly impossible for rude Americans) to pronounce.

So I am starting over. Call it a midlife crisis, or what you will.

I call it taking control of my identity, and it feels great.

I told my adad that I am jettisoning his name, too. He was sad, but I think he understands why I am doing this.

I have a new last name picked out, and one of my sons wants to change his to it, as well. The first name is in flux. My amom suggested one that has mythological undertones that make sense, as well as a tie to a family member. I like it, but I really, really, really want a name that is JUST mine.

I will let you know when I figure it all out.

I am thankful that I don't live in Germany, where it is illegal to change one's name.

I love Irish mythology, and the story of the seal maiden, the Selkie, who comes ashore and lives life as a human although she has another life, another existence, under the sea and is always pulled back there. I feel that this is my pull back to something, my chance to be myself. Separate from anyone else's family or expectations.

I might as well be Athena, born fully grown from her father's head. Life is strange.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I am off balance again.

I had been feeling stable, more or less.

Work is going well; I have found my comfort zone after my three and bit years. I still have much to learn, but I am humble and know when to ask for help and advice. I know when things aren't right. I don't feel that I am a danger to anyone, and that's comforting. I love the people I work with, and I think that (most) of them trust me. I enjoy clocking in, getting my assignment, and taking report on my patient(s). I take pleasure in building relationships with my patients over my eight-hour shift. For the most part, I stay in the room with my patient, and I have taken to choosing surgical patients, when possible. I like the order of the operating room and surgical recovery. Everything is controlled.

I had the pleasure, yesterday, of one of my patients finding me in civilian clothes, running up to me and hugging me. She was with friends and told them that I was the "best L&D nurse" and made her experience wonderful. She made me smile. My job sometimes feels just like a job, and I don't know how much I have touched lives, although I do my best to make a difference for the better.

I try to center myself. I run, I read, I do things that make me happy. But there is still this huge hole in my heart, this sense of being let down by people who should know better. The ones who say they love me, but don't. I am not necessarily upset. I know their patterns. I should even know that they're using me, or have nothing to give, or utter hollow promises to get things from me that they want. Just sometimes I, in my hopes that they're better people than they are, am disappointed and reminded that I am truly all alone on my island.

I have spent most of my life expending my energy trying to make other people happy, turning myself into a pretzel to make their dreams come true. What did I get out of it? Sometimes good things, sometimes nothing. I have made great strides, positive strides, in ending this "good" behavior that has bad consequences for me.

I cannot stand the empty words anymore. Don't tell me you love me if you cannot back it up by actions. It's too, too triggering.

I have simply had several of those days when I can no longer deny that I am not getting what *I* need, on the most basic levels. And those days are excruciatingly difficult to get through, even on robot mode.

Not to mention that my body is letting me down again. It's all in a package, always. I am left with that sinking feeling that my entire existence on this planet has been to "bring sunshine" to others. I don't want to do it anymore! It's a cruel joke. If that's what it is, I am prepared to jettison about 85% of the people in my life and start over.

As my primary care MD said, I survived all the medical shit through some crazy odds, and it has to be for something better than this. I should have been dead at least five times over. Yes, I want to be a good mother to my children, and that's very important. But I deserve to be happy in my own right, and not just on happy pills.

I feel that there is something I need to do, and I am not quite sure what it is. It's significant, of that I am certain.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Belonging redux

I haven't written much about my adopted life recently, in part because I don't want to write about my nfamily. Now that they are in my life, the web of relationships is exponentially more complicated. I care very much about not hurting them. The other part is that the landscape is constantly shifting and is sometimes too difficult to describe effectively.

With that proviso, here is where I am right now.

I feel like I live on a ledge. On the one hand, separated by a gap, is my afamily. On the other hand, separated by an equal gap, is my nfamily. Sometimes I can touch them across the gap, but the gap is always there, and will always be there, I see now. It's how I handle living with the gap that is my concern.

I suppose my aparents are on the ledge with me, most of the time. They love me unconditionally, and are black sheep in their families, too. In all my large, extended afamily, there are a few cousins and aunts and uncles who reach out to me and who probably do care for me quite honestly, but I have never been able to reciprocate as well as I'd like, or I've messed up, or I sense that there is something missing. I know that I am very different from many people in my afamily, just as my parents are, and that's okay. But it does leave me feeling that I am standing alone.

When I visited my aparents last weekend (and the Klimt exhibition was glorious, despite scholarship that drove me around the bend), I felt as loved as I could be. They are home to me. They have loved me unreservedly and given above and beyond, since they brought me home in July of 1969. My dad asked me how my trip to Hawaii had gone, and said that he was so happy that I'd found my nfamily because he and my mom are in their 70's and won't be around forever. He wants to know that I will have people around to take care of me and love me when they are gone. He sees it as a growing of family, not a taking away of what's *his*, which is wonderful and kind. As it should be.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to spend five days with my nfamily last month and to get to know them better. It was enlightening to see how I am like and dissimilar to my blood relatives other than C and A. I loved hearing stories about my grandfather, and learning with whom he shared stories, and with whom he didn't. How he gave satirical nicknames to people, which is something I have always done, privately and otherwise. On the other hand, hearing these stories made me quite sad because I realized how much I missed in not knowing him, this man whose temperament and eyes and love of history I share. There's nothing to be done about it, but I grieve the loss profoundly. I also loved having my uncle tell me how much he sees of the family in me, and how proud he is of me and what I've done with the good bits, and how I handle the not-so-good bits. He was the one who said that he was committed to getting to know me, and he has kept his word. That means the world to me. I feel safe that he won't hurt me or leave me, which is saying volumes from a bruised, skittish adoptee.

But I am still on a ledge. Neither side understands all of me, nor accepts all of me. There are ruptures that cannot be mended. What I've realized, and I think this is the most important part, is that it's my job to take care of myself. The experiences I've had, and the opportunity to get to know C, has helped me become a whole person because there's no longer a part of me that feels rejected, or that *I* reject. I have had a chance to begin to integrate my story, such as it is, and see which parts of me are in my blood, so to speak, and which parts are socially constructed.

Thomenon and I had a long talk the other night, and he said that over the past 20 years he has watched me work hard to climb up the face of a cliff, leaving parts of myself behind, finding others, fighting battles all the while, internal and external. I have made it to the top now, lean and sinewy and strong, very different from the dewy-eyed, open-hearted creature who began the climb, willing to accept the cruel words and punishments of others as gospel, internalizing all of it. Time and experience and pain and many other circumstances thrown into the crucible have created the *me* that stands here now; I am so much better off than I was even two years ago because I am no longer struggling to control people and relationships that I truly have no control over, and I am no longer willing to engage with people who are full of shit.

The difference--the most important difference--is that while I might not belong to my family in ways that others take for granted, I have come to *like* the place that I've made for myself. My family is one I've created, which I define very broadly. I am doing the best I can with what was given to me, and I think I've done a great job, considering. If people want to be in my life, they are welcome, but I am not chasing specters anymore, or false promises. I know who loves me, and who doesn't. My adoptee-senses are exquisitely honed to detect bullshit, and I am too old to play games. To be honest, I feel better being alone than around others. Part of it is my rarified education and irritation level running at DEFCON 1, part of it's my hard shell, part of it is having difficulty trusting others and jettisoning the untrustworthy faster than I can hit speed dial. None of this is bad; it's just who I am. The best part? I feel comfortable in my own skin.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


I have not had the time I've wished of late to think about intellectual issues. I had been meaning to write about an interesting essay I read a few months back in the New York Times Magazine about Roland Barthes, one my favorite figures in criticism.

Sam Anderson, the essayist, opined:

"'Mythologies' is often an angry book, and what angered Barthes more than anything was 'common sense,' which he identified as the philosophy of the bourgeoisie, a mode of thought that systematically pretends that complex things are simple, that puzzling things are obvious, that local things are universal — in short, that cultural fantasies shaped by all the dirty contingencies of power and money and history are in fact just the natural order of the universe. The critic’s job, in Barthes’s view, was not to revel in these common-sensical myths but to expose them as fraudulent. The critic had to side with history, not with culture. And history, Barthes insisted, 'is not a good bourgeois.'"

I appreciate Anderson's encapsulation of Barthes' project. I concur. Barthes always wanted to press beyond the obvious, to smash complacency and encourage questioning beyond the surface. "Natural orders" are nothing of the sort, generally, except when they are, and you know of what I speak. I love the idea of history being dressed not as a well padded bourgeois gentilhomme, but as a lean, hungry radical. Perhaps Chekhovian in appearance. There are plenty of myths, to be sure, and plenty of people willing to swallow them; but I also believe Barthes would have been equally disgusted by people who hewed only to facts, as though they were a religion. The Dryasdusts. The Casaubons. My friend Thomenon and I joke that empiricists, when asked what their sex is, say, "Hold on. I have to check the data."

There is always, always a place for facts, to be sure. I work in a field where facts and evidence-based practice are of huge importance for safety reasons. But at the same time, the best minds continue to question and push beyond the obvious. I was reading an article in a journal at work the other night that showed research revealing that infants born between 37 and 39 weeks gestation via elective cesarean section are demonstrating in childhood higher incidence of diabetes, asthma, and other chronic diseases. I need to do more research into the samples and the study, but this is curious. Why would this be? It could be that the the sample is skewed toward mothers who already have genetic tendencies/family history for diabetes and asthma; the populations most commonly associated with these diseases, however, are low-income women of color who do not (usually) have the opportunity to choose an elective cesarean. Why did the similar sample of women with vaginal deliveries of infants of the same gestation have children who did NOT have these problems? I know there are many, many variables to control for, but this is a curious problem. I was speaking about this article informally with some MDs and RNs, and several people speculated that there might be some unknown protective physiological processes that vaginal birth provides to an infant. We already know it's better for their lungs. There are just so many things we don't know about the human body and how the human brain works. How can we be so hubristic to say that we have the effects of infant adoption all figured out? Oh well, some people just need to feel important, I guess. 

Which brings me to back to Tim Clark. I went out to get the mail and found a fresh, lovely, unwrinkled copy of the LRB, complete with his review of an exhibition of Picasso prints at the British Museum. "What fun," I thought. I can be frustrated all afternoon and read and throw it across the room when I have had enough. 

I know Clark's new book is going to be about Picasso's classicism, which is potentially interesting, if he can get his classical facts straight. I hope his editors will assist him, because he had errors in his essay. Tim, dear, they are white-ground lekythoi, not white-figure. But good on you for looking at them! They are lovely, indeed. To say, however, that the lekythoi are not serious, are unserious, in fact, is rather misleading. You are denigrating again, as you do so very well! To call the subject of the vases the "thoughtlessness of life" is perhaps intelligent, as the small details make life/the loss of life poignant. Do we not all want to remember the tiniest details of our loved ones? But details are not always frippery! Alas, Sir, you call classical art a "decorative" idiom that might be able to turn the corner to pathos. WTF? Is it because it didn't exist for its own sake? Is it because this lekythos wasn't signed by a single male artist, splattering his semen paint all over the place? Puhleeze. 

Oh, and of course, speaking of the Greek vases in the British Museum's marvelous collection, where I have whiled away many an hour: "What view of death has ever equalled these for delicacy and regret?" Sigh. If Tim were in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, I am sure he would say the same of David's Death of Marat. He waxes lyrical about whatever collection he is inspired by, on the day, using generic language. Where is his editor? It is immensely rewarding to know one's enemies' habits. They repeat them so very predictably.

It is also wonderful to be middle-aged, see the Emperor with no clothes, and not to feel deferential anymore. Not at all! Such a relief! I have my own brain, my own credentials, my own opinions. He, like so many others, is bound and imprisoned by his prejudices to such a degree that it's pitiable. Almost pitiable. I cannot, and will not, forgive the abuse.

Which isn't to say that the Emperor (crowned by himself, no less) doesn't have some wonderful ideas. That's the frustrating part. As enjoyable as it is to watch him hang himself, he does reveal things that I don't see, or wouldn't see on my own. 

I will be going to see an exhibition of Gustav Klimt drawings at the Getty on Saturday, delight of delights. I am ready for a day of art history, at my own pace, just loving it, with no one complaining and whining.