Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Beating Like a Wild Heart

I ran across Jack Antonoff's song "Like a River Runs" by accident. It describes perfectly my feelings and struggles in relation to my father's absence. Regret, sadness, victimhood, trying to move beyond, giving up, running, remembering his light. It is also perfect music to help me while I run.

I love you, Dad.

Monday, November 03, 2014

No solution

The solution is to do the work of healing oneself.

I get that.

I hold myself as an infant. I listen to her. I get it. Is that all? I have to find peace in doing this? I have to do it and mean it? I thought I did, had done for years. Accept the coldness of my primary caretakers. Their carelessness. Their part-time love.

Yes, I have to let go of illusions. Say goodbye to maya.

I am restless. I always think there's something better right over the hill. Probably not.

Maybe I do need to learn to meditate and not mind being in my own body.

I am tired of hearing that my fellow adoptees are going mad. I know that I am not alone, and yet it feels so fucking desperate and lonely.

Alan Cumming tonight. He is fucking brilliant.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


I looked back over what I had written related to my searches and my marriage and my wanting some connection to anyone. This is years old. Same denials, same words, same path. Where do I go that is different? Which trees, which tracks, which doors are new? None.

Only I am different.


Older? Wiser? More war torn? I keep trying and trying to find a way back from the pit. Where is that light? When I ask people to find me, to see me, do they? What is their capacity?

Have I imagined all of it?

I sit here now, typing on my phone, swimming in the sounds of the Bleachers, new and old, retro. Reaching back into my 80's psyche. Where is my father? Where is my heart? Where is my mother's courage, her truth? Why do I need her truth to match my own?

I feel as though I have accepted that my brother is lost to me. There is nothing more I can do. It does not even sting: it feels like it is happening to someone else, and I merely watch with compassion and a vague sense of sadness.

The most painful wound is that of being invisible. I feel as though I am speaking only to the air.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Step Away from Emotional Addiction

[I wrote a version of this post in 2014, but I never published it because I took my blog private. 11/29/2018]

I consider certain people to be akin to emotional heroin for me. Oddly enough, Melissa Broder came up with a similar term (drug-people) and used it in her fabulous book So Sad Today. She talks about getting high on people. It's true. Some of us do that. It's a craving and longing, and it SUCKS.

Given what my previous post covered, I might as well deal with this.

I am addicted to wanting a particular kind of connection.

For me, that means getting emotional support from people who are tangential to my life and unpredictable, but who (sometimes) have laser-like precision in knowing exactly what I need and offering it. Then I settle in, enjoy the high, and then....I am alone and panicked again, because usually they are nowhere to be found.

I wish it did not have to be a high, and yet it is. I wonder if this is tied to my being left alone as an infant and having many unreliable caretakers. I have that constant, roiling anxiety about being unseen and unheard.

Then when certain people come in and are prescient and observe behind my masks: there is the drug. I am thinking of one person in particular who knows me incredibly well without having been in my life for the better part of two decades. Why can he do this? How is it possible? Can one put a name to a connection like that? I think I make it up, but then I know I haven't. Some people are wonderfully perceptive. But then again, they have nothing to give.

There is no sustaining that kind of feverishness, but there is a crazy seduction in someone who can see right through to your most guarded inner soul, who says things about you no one else would or can. I remember when I had a dream that my father named me, and I told him the name. He addressed me in an e-mail by that name. He did, and he is the only one who has ever called me by that name. I didn't know I wanted it, but he knew. He can sit by me when I am freaking out inside and I can hold my shit together. I know it will be okay.

Even with all that, it's not worth it, just like heroin isn't worth it. I am working hard on beating this.

As a kind man who once loved me said, "Life isn't fair. It hasn't been fair in the past, and it will surely cheat us again sometime in the future."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Good vs. Great

Why am I paralyzed when it comes to writing?

I know it's my gift. It comes fluidly. I don't mind revising and rewriting. I don't mind trashing huge chunks and starting over.

I suppose that the problem is two-fold. First, I don't want to be mediocre. Second, I don't know where to begin.

The problem with mediocrity is probably the lesser of the two evils I face. I understand that writing is an apprenticeship. I have paid my dues; I am more than willing to work hard. I am capable of looking critically and deeply within myself. For fuck's sake, I do that on a daily basis. I see so much writing out there that's worse than mediocre. I read widely: reviews and journals and newspapers and novels and memoirs. I recognize talented writing. I get paid to fix other people's writing. I have been complimented on my writing since I was five years old. I see people with far less talent falling all over themselves, proclaiming their talent from rooftops: I read what they write and it's like riding a bicycle over a road with deep potholes. Not that there sometimes aren't good ideas; it's stumbling in the execution.

What is it that holds me back? Is it my lack of identity? Is it fear of putting myself out there, laying myself bare? Calling myself an artist? Knowing that it's impossible to please everyone? Knowing that I will be subject to the inevitable criticism and not being sure that I can weather it? My skin is quite onion-thin.

Why is it that I don't let anyone intimidate me when it comes to my intelligence, but I cannot avoid this soft spot when it comes to prodding? Not that I fear people when it comes to the actual writing. I am quite all right with my mechanics. It's the content, which leads neatly into problem number two.

What is it that I am meant to explore?

Sometimes I believe that I should write a memoir. My story is certainly seamy and lurid enough without embellishment. Full of heartache and success and heartache again. I have thought of beginning at least a hundred times. Then again, I feel too young. I am not sure what the ending should be. I also feel so desperately disappointed by my life, and the market prefers upbeat stories. An essay, perhaps, on finding my brother? I do love the short telling of that phone call, the description of my brother's voice. The anticipation. The relief, the plans to meet my first blood relative.

Or as I just said to Linda, a consideration of how people treat us as a result of our non-human status. What is it that allows people to think of us as unicorns and fairies, and thus dismiss us/ignore us so roundly, perfectly, completely?

Should I write a novel? I had been thinking abstractly about a scenario in which I awakened in the mid-1990's, studying for my oral exams, to find an iPhone next to my bed. On the phone was a picture of a man who looked achingly, shockingly like my father. Only then I hadn't truly begun to search, I wouldn't have known what an iPhone was, etc. How would this device have helped me/hurt me? Would it have allowed me to contemplate things, or would it have shattered me even more profoundly? Driving back from Reno, I imagined a paragraph that involved waking up on a hot, Saturday morning in summer (maybe 1995), the sun streaming through my window. Books were piled next to my bed, photocopies strewn on the floor. Dates from the Raj were dancing around my head, notebooks filled on my desk, flowers in water, reflecting the light on my bedside table. The warm sun illuminated Will's frecked shoulders; I noticed his even breathing, the red stubble on his cheeks. I remember that, so achingly. I remember waking up to read Northanger Abbey. What if I woke up to find that iPhone?

I have only ever written academic work at length, though.

I don't know if I have a novel in me.

I think about Anne Lamott's father and his prescription, "bird by bird." I don't know.

I have to mull this over.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Being Heard

After days of thinking and consultation with Nalini, I believe my turmoil truly is about being heard.

I have so seldom been heard.

The baby version of me was not heard in the NICU. I cried myself hoarse. No one listened. I was conditioned to become anxious and panicky if I am not heard.

Those rare moments when certain people do see me and hear me, and hear me without my asking them to, or without cajoling them, or without sending a road map: they send the emotional side of me into orgasmic paroxysms. It is like a drug. Like an amazing shot of some amphetamine mixed with an opiate. I don't know what to do with myself when I am on that high. I feel a need to crawl out of my skin.

I can *listen* to myself, but really, I cannot *hear* myself. I need others to do it.

I can be taken care of on a basic level. I can have my daily needs met. What I want, however, is someone to see me, to *hear* me the way I need them to. This happens occasionally. Very occasionally. And because it is so occasional, it sets me up on a cycle of extreme emotional highs and lows (somewhat tempered now by medication, but I note them, nonetheless). I feel like I must expect nothing, ask for nothing. Acknowledgment comes out of thin air and vanishes, because people are unpredictable.

The people who can help me most are the ones who are least predictable. There have been times when they should have been predictable, but they weren't. My mother. Aaron. Others.

These are people who were supposed to love me, completely, forever. People who connected with me on visceral level. The baby level, the emotional level, the pre-verbal plane.

I was thinking about how a particular person should have been with me to hold the baby me as I met my father, sometime back before he died. We should have gone to Tahoe together. Should. Have. In another life.

I mourn that, too.

It would seem that it's my job, my lesson; I don't know, my path, perhaps, to figure out how to manage an existence without being seen or heard, or to manage with all the pain.

I forgive my mother for what she has done. I love her, but I don't want to be with her or around her. On a visceral level, truly, she disgusts me. She has her own hurts, but all she does is reach out to damage others to try to ignore her own wounds. I have no more patience for that.

Life is suffering. There aren't happy endings. I need to acknowledge my gifts of intelligence and fortitude and soldier on. I will always live in a world of shadows, thanks to the decision my mother made, but I can make that world as light as I am able by loving myself, too, and forgiving myself for momentary lapses of reason.

I wish that I didn't have these temporary glimpses of the sun and feel its warmth, although those glimpses and that warmth remind me that I am human and alive. Losing connections hurts (hence my PTSD to begin with). But what doesn't?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Roller coaster rides.
Characters in stories told long ago.
Imaginary people.
How fun, you think! You clap your hands!

Is that who we are?

Mythical creatures, to be shaped at your will?
Thrown aside, when you are bored?
Without feelings, carved, changed for your tale?

Rag dolls?
Soulless toys?


Papers thrown in drawers?
Simply names in e-mail?
Signatures on letters you can ignore?
Wraiths of babies you held once, long ago, counting toes and fingers?
Children named once upon a time? Or not?
Reminders of dead siblings?

We are not real to you, though. We cannot hurt, we cannot bleed: or so you think.

Except that we are, in fact, human.
Fully so.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014


In my struggle to find some inner quiet, I was thinking about a different crucifix, one I saw back in 2001 in Madrid. It dates to 1063, and was made in Aragon under the patronage of the King Ferdinand I of Leon and his wife, Queen Sancha. They poured enormous amounts of their money into the arts. For that I am hugely grateful.

The ivory crucifix haunted me when I saw it in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional. Christ is impassive, long. His feet rest on a board. He does not truly hang, and under him, a tiny figure holds him up. He skin is luxuriantly smooth; his eyes are kind, and yet piercing. The crucifix is bordered by intricate Celtic design. You know I love that. The area the crucifix came from, the town of Jaca in the north, was settled by Celts, and you can see its influence quite manifestly. On the back of the crucifix are the Agnus Dei, the symbols of the Evangelists, and more interlace. I commune with this Christ and feel peace, anytime I feel shattered. He helped me out today; He is much better than Xanax.

Then I got to thinking about how frustrating the world is, and how I am tired, and how I feel finished. But He reminded me that I haven't made it to Jaca (or Leon) yet. I have work to do. I need to visit the cathedral in Jaca, to find this playful Romanesque bear. To walk around all the capitals, to find the jokes on the margins.

For some reason, I feel most at home in the Romanesque. Is it that it was a transitional moment? Is it the continued strangeness of antiquity and Christianity in conversation, before the Gothic wiped out the last cobwebs? I need to walk down from the Pyrenees and see this view of Jaca, on the Camino, like those Romanesque peregrinos on the Roman roads that were old, even in 1063. I need to take another pilgrimage. It's time.

And if I am walking the Camino, I have to start in France and visit Ste. Foy in Conques. She started me on all of this back, back, back all those years ago as a confused young woman.

I think about walking meditation, and my beloved friend Boreth. And how clearing the mind by walking is the best medicine. I leave you with words from one of his essays on the body and peace:

As I prepare to go for a walk on the beautiful campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz where I now teach, I am reminded of the words of Maha Ghosananda, who led a peace walk from Thailand to Cambodia right after the Khmer Rouge genocide: 'The Buddha called the practice of mindfulness "the only way." Always in the present. At this very moment. From moment to moment. In all activity. In this very step.' 

From "Buddhist Walking Meditations and Contemporary Art of Southeast Asia," Boreth Ly, Positions, 20:1, 267-286.

Black Holes

A wonderful, thoughtful friend sent me a link to a video this morning. A video of a woman, a poet, speaking eloquently and emotionally about her girlfriend's experience. Trying to hold people together in the trauma ICU. My life is a whole lot less dramatic, but I still see death. I see teams assemble to save lives. To perform CPR, to give blood. Sometimes I come home and cry. It's all I can do. Or just go into that place of silence, holding my children, feeling their pulses and their breath. Giving thanks that they're alive.

I love how the video begins with the poet talking about how neither of them have normal jobs, so they're both at home on a Tuesday afternoon. I love that Nalini, Katie, Chris and I all have that strange schedule and can be together, too; and that we all work to support lives in different ways: in the ICU, in the ED, in pediatric oncology. I have never regretted this career change, and the friends I've found are more steadfast and understanding than I can describe.

Monday, May 12, 2014


I am exhausted.

I am tired of adoptees being told that our mothers' rights trump ours. That we don't really matter, or we have to work around other people's comfort levels, or blood ties aren't important, or any of a thousand things. We might be disruptive. We might disturb people's peace. We might wake up long buried feelings and make others uncomfortable. Our fathers were all "bad boys." So many possibilities for damage we might bring; never mind about our own feelings. Never mind that we have thought long and hard and lived with our own discomfort. Never mind.

Our mothers need protection from us, as the legislation in Louisiana and Missouri suggests. It's disappointing what people accept as their lot.

Never mind our health. We are not really human. We can do just fine without medical histories. Writing "Adopted, don't know" works so well.

Seriously, animals get treated better than we do sometimes. Purebred dogs have pedigrees. I knew my dog's sire's name but didn't know my own father's name. And before anyone trots out that no one really knows who their father is, please check yourself. That is pathetic. Yes, people lie about paternity, but that's not how the game is normally played.

I was talking to my MD today, we went over my  medical "problem list." Its length and seriousness sent me over the edge. I am angry. I am beyond angry, actually.

I guess what it comes down to is that I am more than a list of my problems, but they have set my world upside down. I could have been spared things on the list if I'd known more about myself, or if my circumstances had been different. It is what it is. On the other hand, I am impressed that I am still alive.

That said, I am tired of being Atlas. I am tired of bearing the weight of other people's bullshit and lack of concern. I don't even feel like Rodin's fallen caryatids today. That would require more strength than I have. I feel more like the plague-afflicted, suffering Jesus in the Isenheim Altarpiece. And yes, note John the Baptist pointing, although I give him a more sinister reading since he stands in for the Cabal and naysayers in general ("Ooh, look, Jesus is so angry and bitter and emotional. How embarrassing not to be empirical like we are.") The swooning mother: also a bit problematic.

I am going to bed. Not even looking at Velázquez or Sargent can help me tonight.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


It has been a week since my birthday. I may be half of 90, but I am still alive.

I spent most of the day in the wonderful company of my lovely friend Nalini, who took me to see two films: Manakamana, about people coming and going from a temple in Chitwan, Nepal; and Belle, about a mixed-race woman raised by her father's aristocratic family in late 18th-century England. I enjoyed Manakamana, although I think it could have been edited down to better effect. Some of the groupings of people in the cable car were very compelling; others were less so. I loved the grandfather/grandson pair; the chatty women; the daughter-/mother-in-law eating melting ice cream; the older couple, whom we saw both coming and going; and the young men in the rock band, who provided interesting cultural commentary. They would have been a thoughtful confounding of the setup of timeless-modern that the directors were positing. I couldn't stand the stereotypical white woman, who was going on and on about the horrible Himalyan foothills, and how there is no decent black-and-white film in Nepal, blah blah blah. Her pretentiousness made me want to slap her. On the other hand...we all know people like that are out there. Belle, by contrast, was a fictional telling of a true story about a woman raised by family, all extrapolated from a Zoffany portrait showing two young women, of different colors, as equals. Not typical of the time. At. All. I watched her struggle with her face, herself, her color: pulling at herself in the mirror. I don't know what it's like to want to change my color, but I do know what it's like to be different and pull at my face, wanting it to be different and like the people I am around. I loved that her father took her to his family, and insisted that they raise her: "I am not ashamed." Tears streamed down my face. I hope that was what my own father would have said, introducing me to his family. I hear from people that he would have done. I don't know. Is hoping crazy? "Do not be afraid. I am here to take you to a good life. A life that you were born to."

I drank Pimm's on my birthday. Two glasses. I wanted to be in England, my safe place. Where I can hide, act, pretend. Where when I was young, I knew I was an odd duck, but it was all right.

Then later in the week, on May Day, I saw an excellent film, The Skeleton Twins, about siblings who have not spoken in 10 years (starring Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig in dramatic roles). They are reunited after the brother attempts suicide. His sister takes him in, nurtures him gingerly, and they try to apply salve to each other's brokenness. Sometimes clumsily, sometimes with great skill. In one fabulous scene they reenact something from their childhood (or so it's implied): a lip synching/dance routine to an 80's power ballad. I cried again. They shared such history. I lost that with my brother. I will never have that, can never have that. And whatever history we can build, we're not doing a very good job of things right now. Are we going to be 90 and 85 and say, "What did we do?" So I reached out to him. No response. All I can do is try, but my best and his best may never match up.

"Mayday," I want to shriek into the wind.

Then I was cleaning out my closet and found a book of my grandmother's poetry that C had given me. I read through it last night, weeping. One particular short poem was funny but painful:


Later--when I'm older
When I'm grayer
Fatter, Bolder
Then I'll do it

Later, when I'm more 
Than ten pounds overweight
Later, oh three or four
Years, before too late.

Ha, Mimi. Did you do it? Did you? She died almost a year ago now. I hope she did what she wanted to do; unfortunately for me, that did not include welcoming me with open arms.

I hope that my brother can find it in his heart to meet me a little towards the middle. I hope that my mother can find a way to work with me on what happened with my father. It is not just my story, although I am the outcome of their meeting. I know that they shared more than a one-night stand. I understand the hurting, but talking might help.

What else?

I saw Richard Linklater's brilliant new film, Boyhood, that he made over 12 years, filming one scene a year and tracing in real time a family's change. It was marvelous to see in the three hours a boy grow to manhood and how his relationships changed, both with himself and with others. Ethan Hawke, playing his father, was subtle and amazing, as usual, and Linklater's eye: Tolstoyan, as Mark suggested, watching and registering without judgment. People are flawed. We all have strengths and weaknesses, if we can see them and honor them and try to change. "Life doesn't give you bumpers." That's for damn sure.

I am seeing more and more that life is trying to make the best of what we have, and fighting for what and whom we love.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Mark and I have spent the last few nights watching the German miniseries Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers") which will air (or has aired) in the U.S. as "Generation War." It tells the story of WWII from the point of view of five twenty-something friends in Germany, one of them Jewish, and their experiences 1941-1945. One of the characters was a nurse on the Russian front; I couldn't even imagine being in her shoes. It was anxiety-inducing to watch this miniseries, to say the least; why not be consistent with the tone of the week? 

I know I missed many subtleties watching it in German with no subtitles, although Mark helped significantly. I am waiting for it to come out on DVD with English subtitles on May 6th, and then maybe I will have the courage to watch it again. I have to concentrate so very hard to catch what is said, and I know I missed a great deal. My German is not fabulous. The boys watched some of it with us and had excellent questions. They, of course, understood nearly all of the dialogue. I am completely envious of their German skills.

Apparently Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter was both popular and controversial in Germany. The war generation is almost all gone; people still argue much about complicity in war crimes. Who did anything; could they do anything? What did they feel about it? This is another attempt in the culture to come to terms with what happened. 

Mark's father fought on the Russian front and is going to be 90 this year, and he has only recently opened up about what he went through. He survived in the end because he was shot in the arm, was still fit enough to leave Russia, beat the Russians on their push westward, and was taken prisoner by the British. It is strange to think that my husband and sons are here because of the actions of a Russian soldier, 69 years ago. If that soldier had had a more accurate shot, Mark, Callum, and Tobey wouldn't be here. 


Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I have been working my two jobs: teaching and being on the unit as my regular RN self. I am exhausted. It's been rewarding but extremely tiring. I have allowed my students to start IVs on me: brave or masochistic? At one point, they couldn't get the IV in, so I helped. Maybe not a skill I want to advertise too widely. "Look! I can start IVs on myself!"

I was pushed emotionally to the limit by an adoption on the unit that I cannot discuss, of course. Suffice it to say that it felt unbearably traumatic on many levels. I avoid taking patients who are relinquishing because I know that I cannot be unbiased, but my student had the patient and I ended up in the room to supervise. I cried. Copiously. And afterward at home for days. I felt like I was a cog in the cruel wheel, and I kept thinking, "Sorry, sorry, sorry..."

The San Francisco International Film Festival opens this week, and I have plans to go see Belle, about a mixed-race woman raised in 18th-century Britain by her white relatives: fitting in, and not. On my birthday, with my partner in crime, Nalini.

A friend told me that his aunt has published his grandmother's diary from the war years in Bath. She was an ophthalmologist, and her husband a GP. I have been reading it joyfully; the English of that generation, and with that education, are generally a delight when they open up their worlds to you. I appreciate her forthrightness and pugnacity in getting petrol for the nurse, for example. She describes events and foods and outings with such skill: Churchill's speeches; the wisteria; her practice; the annoyance of the dust everywhere after the blitz. I know from my friend's stories that she was a character, to put it mildly; the diary helps to round out that picture in a brilliant way. My friend paid me a great compliment when once he said that my accounts of the unit sometimes remind him of his grandmother's diary. If you have any interest in diaries or England or WWII, I wholeheartedly recommend getting your hands on Carry on Coping: Diary of a Doctor 1942-1945, by Joan F. Hickson.

Otherwise, I have been pulling myself along. Slowly. Wondering what is the value of relationships carried on in single syllables? Not even poetic syllables. Again, back to that. What is offered, and why? Most of the time I don't care. This week, somehow, of course, I care. Why is it always on me? Why is it my job to reach out more, and more, and be met with another single syllable? I know I can choose to walk away. The burden is immense. What is it that makes other people so laconic? I have done my best to meet halfway, to make amends. To say my piece. If the best I can get in return is one syllable, is that a relationship? I would say that it isn't. It's a web-thin thread. Is that enough for *now*? What a sad situation.

I am more or less content. I have had to find contentment with what is available. It is better than running after what isn't there, or what is false. The best I can do is shove it under the rug, as they do. Which is also sad.

But as I am not an avoider, the lack is painful.

Monday, April 14, 2014


My friend's father died a little more than a month ago, and I went to his memorial service on Saturday. His death had not been unexpected, but he was young, only 70. He had been ravaged by an unusually brutal form of Parkinson's--Parkinson's Plus--that left him a shell of who he had been in less than two years. Death in some ways was true relief.

I only had the pleasure of meeting him a few times when he was still vibrant; I sat by his side several times in the nursing home in the weeks before he died. He enjoyed having you hold his hand and talk to him.

He as a man of great intellect and, it would appear, of the Old World in many ways.

I first met my friend in 2007, and she said that she was half-Turkish. She, like so many others, wondered if I were part Middle Eastern or Jewish. This was, of course, before I had found my family. Her father had immigrated to the United States from Istanbul, she said, and was a polymath. Was quirky. Spoke three languages fluently. He sounded fascinating to me.

I remember meeting him at one of her daughters' birthday parties and talking a little bit about old Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk, and Byzantine art; I spent the better part of a week in Istanbul once and had a wonderful time becoming lost in it, just wandering. I wished I could have spoken to my friend's father more about his family and growing up in Istanbul of the 1940's and 1950's. He was a rather shy man, though: an engineer, more at home with ideas than expressions of private concerns. He would much rather launch into excursions on Saint Augustine than talk about his feelings. My friend almost never spoke with him about his family or her family history.

That said, he was amazing about showing that he cared for her, even if he didn't say it explicitly. She always felt his unconditional love. He was the parent who went to every single sporting event without fail. He was the parent who helped her raise her daughter when she decided to have a child at 19 and never said a single word in judgment. He made a place for his granddaughter in his office so that he could help his daughter continue her studies. He took his granddaughter proudly to Rotary Club meetings. He was the parent, as my friend said at the memorial service, whom she would call if she had one phone call in jail. Because she knew he would support her always, 100%, without question.

Then there were the surprises. A letter from my friend's aunt revealed that he had been an actor in college; that he had lived in Italy after attaining his credentials. His ex-wife, my friend's mother, had not even known these things.

We saw images of a gloriously handsome young man on the screen, with Ray Bans and tousled black hair. He was educated by French Jesuits. As a young engineer, he helped build the first bridge to span the Bosporus. He came from an illustrious Ottoman family that had served the Sultan as physicians. He came to the United States on a lark and never returned "home" because he loved his children and knew that they were Americans.

His many friends at the service used the word "cussed" to describe him. Apparently he would offer up unsolicited criticism of the priest's words each week, saying, "I read something recently that would have strengthened your argument..." He loved to play Devil's advocate. He filled roles that no one else would fill; he taught Sunday School. He found a home in Christianity although raised in Islam because he said that it was the same God, after all. He brought a gift to every single event. Why? Because he was raised in Islam, although no one seemed to register this.

I recounted what I had learned of the remarkable life of my friend's father to Thomenon yesterday, and how his loss weighed so heavily on me. He responded, "Muppie, that's because the Old World is gone. This man came from the Old World. People like that don't exist anymore. Horribly sad."

My pain became more personal as I sat at a table with my friend and her family, and her in-laws. As the photographs would flash by on the screen, people would say, "Look! There's A! There's B! There's so-and-so!" All in different family faces, or in the baby pictures of my friend's father. As it should be. But of course this struck me all the more because belonging is foreign. We adoptees are relegated to another place where we do not fit, or if we fit it's too late; or it's too much; or it's too bothersome; or we must navigate the narrows with great care and skill. We miss out on history, on shared experiences, on so much. We have likenesses, but what else? What tests must we pass? There is incredible loss.

I was honored that I was able to share the memories of Ilhami Karaca, and I am all the more distraught that I missed out knowing my own father. The nearly 20 years since his death are so long ago, a wide gulf.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


I was thinking this morning about never learning Spanish properly, and how that is an immense shame. I simply never felt drawn to it in the way I did to French, German, Russian, and the Celtic and Classical languages. Not that it isn't beautiful, and I have felt enormous pleasure in Spain; I also acknowledge the great disadvantage in not speaking the language.

Twenty-four years ago at this time in April, I was in Málaga, staying with family friends. They took me to explore the coast: to visit Granada and the impressive lacy palace of the Alhambra; to Gibraltar, that mighty British outpost at the edge of the Mediterranean with red post boxes and Marks & Spencer. I ate paella and drank lots of wine. I read, I swam in their pool. I remember staying up late and watching The Terminator on their VCR. I was on Easter break from Cambridge, having first spent a week with my cousin in Paris.

I was enchanted by Spain, although I didn't know much about it. I hadn't focused on it in history, except in the broadest of strokes; Ferdinand and Isabella; the Spanish Armada being defeated by Elizabeth's navy in 1588; the Holy Roman Emperor and Charles V; the Hapsburgs. When I was 20, I don't even think I could have identified a Velazquez. Maybe an El Greco, maybe. I do remember watching the state funeral of Picasso on television as a very tiny child.

The following year I was introduced to Federico García Lorca when I was back at Bryn Mawr. The senior Drama majors put on a remarkable conceptual play that somehow involved both Lorca and Andy Warhol. I was immediately fascinated by Lorca and read his poetry in English. Through him, I discovered the Surrealists: how can you understand Lorca without going deeper to see Dali and Buñuel?

April is also my birthday month, and it is a difficult time for me. I always feel acutely lonely, no matter how beautiful a physical place I may be inhabiting. Surroundings don't help; my companions usually don't, either. I feel as though I am living in a separate place, looking in from far away.

That said, this particular poem of Lorca's has been rattling around my head today:

It Is True

Oh, what an effort it is
to love you as I do!

For love of you, the air,
my heart
and my hat hurt me.

Who will buy of me
this ribbon I have
and this grief of white
linen to make handkerchiefs?

Oh, what an effort it is 
to love you as I do!

trans. Harriet de Onis

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I have many faults, one of which is putting things off. Such as thoughtful reading. I have stacks of journals and newspapers and other such things by my bedside. I am not exactly a hoarder, although my husband's spartan Bauhaus proclivities would label me as such. He thinks having about 20 books total is appropriate and looks forward to the days when there are only e-books and no clutter, he says.

I cannot countenance that, but I digress.

Some days I feel guilty, such as today, and I wade through my stacks and read the bits and pieces I have meant to read forever, or at least for six months, so that I can recycle them. I am usually rewarded; there is a trove of brilliance and great writing out there. I have my authors I love, and when they are on, they are so hilarious and inspirational.

Many years ago, I read an essay by the inimitable Terry Castle, a British academic who clearly has the same type of obsessive nature that I do. At one point, she was gripped by a WWI fever and traced a family member's grave and read everything she possibly could about the war. Her journey was chronicled in Courage, Mon Amie, which is now thankfully included in her collected essays. Last summer she wrote in The London Review of Books about going through her mother's papers, though, and her mother's lack of communication and how discomforting is was to come across her oracular cyphers, trying to parse them: 

Despite being friendly and garrulous to a fault, my mother has always been somewhat averse to self-examination. Nor is psychological transparency her strong suit. Indeed, she might once have served as poster-lady for that delicate mental process Freud called the Censorship. Given all that seems to go unacknowledged in her emotional world, these undated, untethered notes can often read--shockingly--like eerie and unprecedented eruptions from the maternal unconscious.

Witness a pencilled memorandum from one of the real estate pads: 'WE'VE BEEN THRU A LOT TOGETHER & MOST OF IT WAS YOUR FAULT.' Haunting enough, this message. A kind of oracular, Emily Dickinson-style 'Letter to the World'. (A complaint letter, at that.) Like something you might find in a sadistic fortune cookie. I love the self-conscious--and very English--effort to appear fair and sporting, even when not, embedded in the phrase 'most of it'. But when did she write it and why? At whom was it directed? 

I love the idea of trying to put words to the ineffable, to make sense of the wordless. Been there, Terry. Bonne chance!

And then reveling in the not-very-lovely prose of Bee Wilson, that's still catchy as anything: "America has the Barrymores and the Fondas, the Douglases and Baldwins. We have the actoriest of all acting families, or as Vanessa prefers to put it, the many 'sprigs of a great and beautiful tree.'" And "Lynn said there was a gene running through all the Redgraves with a proscenium arch attached, but Corin and Vanessa vigorously disagreed, as they disagreed with most of what Lynn, the youngest sibling, said. Natasha...disliked talk of a dynasty. 'It's like coming from a family of carpenters or plumbers who work in the family business, generation after generation.'" 

I am, of course, a sucker for family stories, and acting families such as theirs. Not their notoreity, but their skill in storytelling, and the idea of the stage in their DNA? Why not? Performing and the arts are in my family, too. 

Then my most beloved Julia Margaret Cameron, iconoclast, housewife with collodion stains on her hands, messy, holding her own, inspiration to her great-niece Virginia Woolf, who always had prints of her photographs in her home (again, with the family). I have read and reread Anthony Lane's review of  the Cameron exhibition at the Met. I adore Lane's quirky spikiness. He is snarky. I love that he does not hold back when films are ridiculous, and I love that he is kind to Julia Margaret Cameron, acknowledging imperfections as art. I am not enamored of her more cloying works, the Victorian tableaux-vivants, but her portrait of Ellen Terry, her niece Julia Jackson, her Carlyle. I would have loved to have tea with her. As Lane writes, "the camera did not amuse her, in ladylike ease, as a fitting diversion for an amateur; it consumed her, firing a career and a faith."

As Lane says, "you could post her on Instagram right now." 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Strange dream

I am an insomniac, but when I do sleep, I have strange dreams. Last night's dream was among the most strange I've had recently.

I dreamed that I was a ghost, and that only two men could hear me. They could not see me. I didn't realize that I was dead for quite some time in my dream. I kept going through odd experiences that would lead to my death, including my worst nightmares: being in an enclosed space with crocodiles, for example. Or in a fiery car crash. At one point, I was wearing a red jacket that I haven't had in my possession for more than 20 years. I wondered how I came to be wearing it; nothing made sense. I had been at a party, then ended up in a room with glass windows all around, and a barricade at the door. I had no key. It turned out that the barricade was to keep me (a ghost/monster) at bay. At one point, I did have a "magic" object (strangely, a coffee cup) that was to help me allay my fear. I put it on the ground and said, "Show me what I am to be afraid of," and it came right back to me. At that point, I realized that I was a ghost.

I saw two men then, outside the window, and a small, very slender blond woman on a couch. It turned out that she was a ghost, too. We bonded over not being able to be seen by anyone. She asked if I could see her, and I described her, exactly. We then knew we inhabiting the same space, whatever that meant.

I saw a plane crash then, into a building, and all the phrases and discussion in the dream then made "sense" as part of people's lives flashing before them, rather like the film Jacob's Ladder, which I haven't seen in many years.

 All of a sudden, I saw a light and heard my father's voice (I have heard it before on a video) tell me, "Your name is Hannah. I would have named you Hannah." After that, I woke up.

It was very disconcerting.

I tried in the aftermath of my dream to find meaning in family, and spent my morning going through my father's great-grandfather's side: Ashkenazi immigrants from Russia and England, as opposed to the proper German Baroness in her castle. No wonder they fled Hitler's Germany.

I feel strange claiming the Ashkenazi past. It's strange enough being adopted, but being Jew-ish but not really Jewish? I found that my great-great-grandparents are buried in the Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, and which synagogue they attended. Those invitations to Hillel make sense and don't make sense. How could my classmates know? How could my friend Rachel's Israeli father know? What did they see in me?

I love that my great-great-grandmother Julia was born in England (at least she told the census-taker) in 1863, during the reign of Queen Victoria. But she was an immigrant herself, an outsider. Does that make us alike? What would she have made of me?

Why did I feel that pull to learn Russian?

Why did my mind fix on "Hannah"? Have I been watching too many episodes of Girls?

More threads, more loose ends, more not knowing who/what I am.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Observations and expectations

I spent the past weekend up at Lake Tahoe with family and friends. It was gloriously beautiful, and the conditions were almost perfect. When I first strap on my my boots and step into my bindings at the beginning of the season, I am generally apprehensive. I expect to fall. I don't necessarily mind falling, although these days I am more breakable than I used to be. This trip, however, I somehow had more confidence and skied more fluidly than I had in years.

When I was first learning (barring my very first trip to Utah with Mr. Nearly Perfect), I loved skiing at Squaw Valley, and we were there again this weekend for the boys' benefit. The boys were in ski/snowboard school on Friday, so the adults were together in the more expert areas. We ended up on the back side, and I skied a slope I hadn't tried in years, including a bit that required some fancy work that probably would have reduced me to tears in the past. I told myself, "Well, the worst that can happen is that I slide down on my ass." I didn't.

It was probably my best day on skis ever.

That night my aunts told me that my father loved to ski at Squaw. Maybe he was with me that day, making things just right. At one point I ended up at the top of a mogul run. I hate moguls. HATE them. I heard a voice in my head saying, "Ski, don't cry." I did the run perfectly. I didn't fall.

I wish I could have skied with my father. It would have been so wonderful to laugh with him, to have him smile and wait for me down the hill. I probably would be a much better skier, too, if he had started me as a young girl.

I was thinking also about how my cousins said that if he had raised me, I probably would have ended up a fishing guide at Tahoe. I said that no, I would probably have been a wilderness MD. I know Eric would have supported me in doing whatever I wanted to do. My life would have been different, certainly, but I am so very like his family that it's eerie. In as much as I struggled to find common ground with my mother's family, it is the opposite with my father's family: I belong effortlessly.

For example, my 93-year-old grandmother still speaks three languages fluently (and my great-grandmother did as well, of course). A few weeks ago, my grandmother told a table mate of hers while conversing in German: "You speak German with an Italian accent." She is blunt and a perfectionist. My father's family is also very artistic: they are painters and singers and actors. My grandparents sang opera semi-professionally. When I told my aunts that I have a Ph.D. in art history, they said, "Of course you do!" They have been to all the places I've been. They collect what I collect. They have the same interests. I am not the fish out of water, after all. It is an incredible relief to be able to breathe, to know that the jagged mismatch is not complete.

My father's family and I even have the same personality quirks, communicate the same ways, and have the same anxieties. It has made all the difference in the world to be told, "Your father would have loved you so very much." It breaks my heart that he lived only four hours' drive from here, and that I found out who he was too late, too late. I am having some difficulty coming to terms with anger on that count.

If only I could have spent one day skiing or fishing with him, hearing his voice, sharing stories. I love that I am his mini me. I am extremely proud of him, that he followed his dreams. I have been a wanderer, just as he was. We both ended up in beautiful places, and it is serendipitous that they were so geographically close; it is tragic that our paths crossed only in dotted lines.

There are some things I can do; some things I am quite finished with now. There's no skating over things with me. I don't work that way.

No more pretending. I need equal partners. We are all humans; we will all make mistakes. I will not chase after people anymore. Meet me halfway, or meet me not at all.

It feels so good to be able to say that.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tests and messes

I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov in an stage adaptation of two Chekhov short stories, "Man in a Case" and "About Love" last night. It was a seamless weaving of two tales of frustrated love: the first recounting a man caught in a straitjacket of rules, unable to open his heart and affecting everyone around him; the second being a story of love untold, parallel lives afraid to meet for fear of mess or worse. Love imagined, love unspoken and then realized too late, on a train.

I saw Baryshnikov with C almost two years ago (on my fucking birthday) when he was previously at Berkeley Rep, performing in Bunin's "In Paris." Baryshnikov's timing is exquisite. He uses his voice and body to show torture and sadness, then, as now. The Russians know their pain, they do; for that, I adore them.

The voices, the misunderstandings. The videos reinforcing being lost in a crowd. The hands that never touch. The inability to open a heart, and what's lost in fear as a result. I need to reread the Chekhov short stories, but sometimes I fear losing myself in the muddied currents of unrequited love, the resignation, the pain. I last read Chekov four or five years ago, thinking especially of "The Lady with the Little Dog," wishing that someone would take a chance on me. Of course, I am never that unfortunate, but the knowledge that Chekhov has thought these same things about humanity, and put the heart's conundrums into words, is comforting.

Life is messy, always messy. As I said to my psychiatrist recently, repeatedly: "No one gets everything. It's a matter of figuring out how to make one's peace with what one does have, or does want, and making decisions from there."

I was thinking of how frustrating, utterly irritating and annoying and horrific I have found Tim Clark to be. And yet I admire him. I can entertain that cognitive dissonance, and know that he is an art historical genius when he wants to be; that he can show me things I would never see on my own; that his insights are powerful. I can also be fantastically angry when he's lazy and drags out his "never has a cat looked more cat-like" garbage because I know it's shorthand. On the other hand, we cannot all be brilliant *all* the time.

I bring Tim up because I bought his newly published tome on Picasso, Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica, a book he began to research back when I was in graduate school and he taught seminars on Picasso work of the 20's. These were the same seminars that drove me into conversations with his modernist students who were irritated to think that their Picasso actually gave a flying fuck about antiquity. But consider those paintings carefully: Picasso was looking over and over and over at ancient art. Those are not Cubist forms; they're informed by Greek and Roman sculpture. See "The Pipes of Pan," from 1923, and argue that it's not classical.

I do honestly take great pleasure in reading the best of Tim Clark's writing, especially when he's not on his Marxist soapbox. I read his introduction, and I am ready: "What makes Picasso truly the artist of the century, in other words, is his absolute faith in the here and now of pleasure and sex and the painter's craft, and his absolute lucidity about the circumstance in which these things were now on offer. The room remained, but it was more and more populated by monsters. These lectures will try to show why."

Okay, Tim. Bring it.

Which brings me to tests.

In one session with Dr. Yalom, he pushed me and pushed me and pushed me about my name change. He seemed truly baffled by it in a way that surprised me. I told him how I had fired Dr. Brodzinsky after he repeatedly called me "Care-ah," and how I feel like "Care-ah" is a term of abuse. It has been used as such, on many occasions in my life. He questioned me, and I told him how it hurts me when I tell people specifically not to call me that, but they persist. It's cruel and careless. Perhaps careless then cruel, if it persists. Then, to add fuel to the fire, after all that, HE FUCKING CALLED ME CARE-AH. I flipped out. It is too much. He said that my reaction seemed out of proportion; I disagreed, saying that I had just told him how much it meant to me. And how much, in his books, he has described hating getting bad reviews. I said "Care-ah" for me is like getting bad reviews for him. Strikes you right to your core. Knocks you down. Takes your breath away. He then tried to tell me that he wasn't abandoning me by saying it wrong. I said, "No, of course not. It's not about abandonment. It's about respect/disrespect. You are showing me that you don't respect me, or what I am saying, when you do the exact opposite of what I am asking, without offering a decent reason why. BECAUSE THERE IS NO GOOD REASON." He then told me that he felt "Mirren" was a poor choice, that "Judy" or a common name would be better. I said, "No, it wouldn't. I chose it, and I don't care as much." He called my bluff, and yes, I suppose I do care if people say "Mirren" incorrectly. But it isn't charged by the same abuse, and *I* chose it. He pushed me farther, and I said, "IT'S A TEST!!!" Of course it's a test. But Mirren is my test. Mirren is who I am, who I feel like inside. "Kara/Care-ah" is my father's choice, not who I am, and it's freighted by horrible memories. I don't want that name on me, in me, as part of me.

We all have certain things that are extremely important to us and our identities. My name is mine.
Names and identities go together. I don't want to play a role anymore; I want to be myself. Finding out exactly who that is, and how to be that person authentically, is not easy work.

So I walk on, having decided that the world is a very odd place: not that I didn't know that before.

Maybe some of my tests can be a little strict. Maybe I am a little bit harsh. Maybe. I can work on that, as well. But at the same time, real relationships do take reciprocal effort. We. Shall. See.