Friday, September 20, 2013


I was reading to Tobey last night from Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid (retellings of selected stories from the Metamorphoses). We are lovers of ancient mythology, and we enjoy revisiting the same stories from different vantage points. We'd been talking about Achilles a few days before, and how Achilles' mother, Thetis, the sea-nymph, was the subject of a problematic prophecy: she was to bear a son who would be more powerful than his father. So neither Zeus nor Poseidon REALLY wanted to sleep with her, however lovely she was; they liked holding onto their power just fine. They had to find someone else to be Thetis' man, and that turned out to be Peleus.

Peleus was mortal, though (albeit grandson of Zeus). He needed help in catching the sea-nymph, who wasn't going to surrender quietly.

"He woke her with a kiss.
First she was astonished, then furious.
He applied all his cunning to seduce her.
He exhausted his resources. None of it worked.
His every soft word hardened her colder.
If they had been two cats, he was thinking,
She would have been flattened to the wall,
Her mask fixed in a snarl, spitting at him.
He took his cue from that. Where argument
Fails, violence follows. His strength
Could have trussed her up like a chicken
If she had stayed the woman he woke with a kiss.
But before he knew
He was grappling with an enormous sea-bird,
Its body powerful as a seal, and its beak
Spiking his skull like a claw hammer.
A bird that was suddenly a wren
Escaping towards the tangle of myrtles,
Bolting past his cheek like a shuttlecock
That he caught with a snatch of pure luck,
And found himself
Gripping a tigress by the shag of her throat
As her paw hit him with the impact
Of a fifty-kilo lump of shaggy bronze
Dropped from a battlement.
He rolled from the cave and landed flat on his back
In cushioning shallow water."

At first defeated.

He prayed.

The sea-god Proteus gave him an answer, telling him to bind her with leather thongs, and not to let go, NO MATTER WHAT.

"'...bind her, bind her tight with thongs,
Before she wakes. Then hang on to her body
No matter what it becomes, no matter what monster.
Do not let her scare you--
However she transforms herself, it is her,
Dodging from shape to shape, through a hundred shapes.
Hang on
Till her counterfeit selves are all used up,
And she reappears as Thetis.'"

Thus did Peleus, and thus he won his sea-nymph bride.

And I was thinking about being like Thetis myself: wanting someone to hold onto me, no matter what. Having that commitment, no matter what. Loving me, no matter what. Knowing that I am in there, and worth it, no matter what. I think more than a few adoptees feel like Thetis, and want (not necessarily to be bound), but to be held and loved, not matter what face we show, what mask.

Perhaps it's all about reframing the question. It's not that we aren't good enough for people to hold tightly: it's that we're like sea-nymphs, and more valuable than we even know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I was watching Joe Wright's "Pride and Prejudice" again, and was thinking about the scandal of Lydia running away with Wickham. About dirtying the family name and redeeming it.

And of course how some of us adoptees are relinquished for the same reason. To avoid family scandals. To rid the family of evidence of improper behavior, i.e., sexual, outside of wedlock. To tidy things up and rewrite narratives.

No matter how pretty we try to make the revisions, however, the truth remains. It burns, it stings. All the more so when it's denied (by denying us, or by treating us as less than, or by insisting that blood doesn't matter).

As physical evidence of something deemed awry, adoptees are convenient scapegoats for all that is wrong with our families, and receptacles for society's pie-in-the-sky imagined stories of redemption. I know this is old news, but it remains true.

In August I saw a Harold Pinter play, "No Man's Land," in Berkeley. It's all about perspective and unreliable narratives and scandals and harming others by secrets and lies. Whom do you believe, and why? Is there one stable narrative? No, of course not. We must take them all, sort them, review them, and decide what works. Usually in playbills, there's a summary of the plot. There was decidedly no plot summary in this playbill. Mark was stymied. "Why was there no guidance?" he asked. Pinter, unlike many writers, did not wish to dictate meaning to the audience (or the actors, for that matter--he hated to be asked to clarify). I understand, how I understand, especially the war metaphor.

It's difficult to live in a world where one's existence is tied exigently to unstable narratives about family, for those tie into one's core, one's innermost self. What is pinned onto us? Thrown away with us? Resurrected with us?

I was thinking about ways in which I courted scandals and created them, when I was younger, and not so young, as well: Is it just me, or is it being adopted? How do I know how to live, unless it is on the edge, challenging people's ideas of the status quo? I push boundaries, break societal rules, and act in ways that make people raise their eyebrows. Always have.

"Why can't you just leave that alone?" My answer: "Because I cannot. I have to know/do/go there." It's about being true to myself, not sacrificing myself on some artificial altar for a purpose dictated to me by others. And truth be told, I have been at my happiest when at the center of some things that society deemed scandalous.

People love hearing about scandals, but they are predictable about judging those living them (sometimes rightly, sometimes less so). Having been thus judged all my life, I don't like the censure, but I am at a point now where often I can shrug it off.

When the world doesn't know what to do with you, one way of coping is to wear masks, to play roles, to behave in ways that don't draw attention to yourself. I have responsibilities now that make me much less likely to act scandalously, but I will always be the product of a scandalous relationship and treated as such, if I out myself to people.

I do have people in my life who don't allow me to wear my masks all the time, and I am relieved that with them I can breathe, and take off my metaphorical corset.

The great thing has been finding my father; no one who sees him can deny our likeness, and people, even ones who insist that I am fortunate not to have ended up aborted, tell me what a pity it is that I missed knowing him. Too true. But again, my knowing him was prevented by scandal, by being unsure of his character, perhaps? I understand, but I mourn what might have been, the conversations we never had.

Yet I appreciate how imperfect the world can be, dirty hems and all.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I found my father this year, through 23andMe.

This will be a surprise to some, old news to others.

It has been a difficult journey, not to mention a long one. My father died in 1994, three years before I even began to search. I will never get the chance to speak with him, touch him, hear from him in his own words. My extended family, however, has been overwhelmingly kind and accepting, answering questions and telling me things that help me understand many things about myself.

My father did not marry before his untimely death, and I am the only child anyone knows about (now!), the surprise one. He never knew that I existed, but his sisters and my uncle, his best friend, tell me that he would very much have enjoyed knowing me. He adored his nieces and nephews.

I found out that my father played the flute. One of my aunts still has his flute. It gives me chills to think that I could hold it one day. I learned that my father was an avid fisherman, an extremely skilled one, who loved the rivers of California and Oregon, and sea fishing, too. That yes, indeed, he had lived in Hawaii for a year, and that he did not go to Vietnam. He was 6'4" with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes

My father was a night owl. He loved to read: books and books and books. He died with a book on his chest and his reading glasses on. Sounds like a good way to go, except that I am heartbroken that he was alone and so young. Maybe if he had been 95 years old! My father, by all accounts, was a charming, loving man. Messy, too. Oh, hell yes. It's in the genes. Maybe not so much the seven-year-plan for undergrad. It was the '60's, though. But I can see Tobey doing that (and Tobey looks even more like him than I do)! And yes, the zoology major.

Although he was born and raised in the Chicago area, he lived at Lake Tahoe for the last 20+ years of his life. On his way to Hawaii, where he lived during the time I was gestating, he stopped and fell in love with the Sierra. I can absolutely understand that feeling. Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. He apparently lived for the outdoors: fishing, but also hiking and swimming, etc.

I realize that I could have crossed paths with him, maybe, up at Tahoe in '93 and '94. And maybe when I was in Chicago in the summer of '94 I may have brushed shoulders with my family. It's all so very strange.

It's also uncanny but wonderful to look so much like him. One of my aunts told me recently that she had dinner with one of her childhood friends who knew my father well. They looked at pictures of me, when I as a child and now. The family friend said, "Holy shit, she looks just like him!"

Here is my father, in his fraternity photograph from 1967, and a picture of me from my senior year in high school, in the fall of 1986:

I am definitely his daughter. I guess I have him to thank for all that eyebrow waxing I have to do!

I have also learned that I have other relatives' eyes and teeth and smile, etc. I love hearing about resemblances, no matter how small, probably because I never looked like anyone before. My aunts say, "We see these traits in you because we know our family. We will show you."

One of my great-grandfathers was a diplomat in Germany after WWI. He married a German woman from Koblenz. So I am German. No more making fun of Mark. My grandfather was Swedish-American. I am Scandinavian, although I wouldn't have thought so! I was also excited to learn that my great-great-grandfather came from Poland and was Jewish, so there's the Ashkenazi ancestry that my friends could see in me all those years. One of my great-aunts was a painter and graduated from the Art Institute in Chicago. They're a very artistic family. Sound familiar?

I have been able to watch short little video clips that the family had of my father from different vacations. Its amazing to see his sense of humor and posture and eyebrow arching and smile. I can see myself in him. I will be curious to hear what my family says they see of him in me when I meet them, in terms of gestures, etc.

My father's ashes were scattered in one of his favorite rivers for fishing. A few months before my father died, he asked my uncle to scatter his ashes there at the appropriate time. My uncle didn't give my father's request much thought; he was well (or seemed well), they were hiking and fishing. But when the sad time came, and my uncle lovingly carried out my father's wishes.

A few weeks ago, my family and I went to that river, which empties into a lake where we left flowers to honor my father. Tobey was especially moved and created a small tribute from the flowers and some pinecones and stones. We all spoke to my father on that warm, peaceful afternoon, and a breeze came up as we left, as if to say goodbye to us in return.

Having found my father is like looking in a darkened mirror: the image returned is similar to me, of me, but not me: mute and smoky. I still have to do so much work on my own. How do I even begin to mourn someone I never met, but who lives on within me? It's a constantly changing mix of odd, euphoric, and sometimes very painful feelings. It clearly will be a long process of learning about my father, and about myself. I am fortunate to have people who have chosen to walk alongside me as I discover, and who willingly guide me.