The Bruce, The L’Engle and The Matrix

Bruce Springsteen says, “I think what happens is sometimes you have to break your own narrative. We all have stories we’re living and telling ourselves. There’s a time when that narrative has to be broken because you’ve run out of freedom, you’ve run out of places to go.”

NR, my faithful friend and blog commentator says, “Your paper is a manifestation of an intellectual exercise . . . A non-conventional structure should allow the reader to explore meanings (or ways of thinking) that would not have been achieved otherwise.”

And that is what I have been trying to do here. To break the stranglehold of the metanarrative of our adoption. (I think I stole “stranglehold of metanarrative” from somewhere.  But I know not where. Any of my TC friends have a source?) Here is how I have tried:

  • I have written an essay about the first time I felt/saw a crack in the narrative
  • I have explored the discourses available to my parents in 1967, about families, about unwed mothers, that wrote/limited/prescribed, for them, the story of our adoption
  • I have explored the discourses of professionals in the adoption process, and how they and their research and their biases and values and beliefs wrote my birth mother’s story
  • I have re-explored, as an adult, The Chosen Baby, the text that illustrated for so many parents the chosen narrative
  • I have brought in other voices from other adoptees, most notably my brother, who tosses the whole story out without a backward glance
  • I have explored the personal essay and memoir as a genre to see how their very conventions influenced my retelling of the story, my exploration of the story, the boundaries of my exploration
  • And I have included, for the reader, other, later essays that touch on the adoption story, that trace, perhaps only minimally, the narrative, the memory, as it grows and changes as I grow and change
  • I have written each of these, whether wittingly or unwittingly, from a different persona, a different I. The I of the essay is only the I of the moment writing. There is Liz, the 28-year-old, first-time personal essayist; Liz, the child, being read The Chosen Baby and Liz, the horrified adult rereader of The Chosen Baby;  Liz, the . . .
  • And each of these Is contradicts, in small ways, the others–is different from the others, is older, younger, more or less naive, operating in a different discourse community with a different perspective for a different audience for a different purpose, is coherent and whole only in the moment of writing

And here is what (I think) has happened:

I have identified (some of) the gaps and silences in the adoption story and I have explored/exploded some of those. I have been (I think) successful in disrupting/ problematizing/exposing the constructedness of the narrative surrounding my birthmother, in moving her along some sort of spectrum from the Blessed Mother to a real person, although, yes, she stops well short of real and actual, at least in my narrative, and lands somewhere in the realm of “birth mothers of the 1960s.” But I have given her layers and complications and possibilities. (And really, from a post-structural point of view, she wouldn’t be representable even if she were sitting right next to me. So there.)

And I have called into question, to a small degree, the ever-popular choice narrative of adoption, the chosen baby narrative, and I’ve even  noted the contradiction it creates when it stands alongside the “meant to be a family” narrative.

But it’s that metanarrative of our family, our entire, extended family, that we were meant-to-be-a-family, that I have not touched, that I cannot touch.

As a reader, you might see places where it’s been disrupted, touched, toyed with. And that would be great. But I can tell you this: as the writer, as the person living inside the narrative, or living with the narrative inside me–I can’t touch it.

Is it enough to reveal it? To know I’m living inside a constructed reality? Is that maybe all we can do anyway?

If I break the “stranglehold of the metanarrative,” won’t I simply construct a new narrative, albeit one with perhaps more freedom to move, in which to live? Is that all Bruce is trying to tell us?

Am I even talking about the right metanarrative here? Is our narrative, our we-were-meant-to-be-a-family narrative, a metanarrative? Or it is operating as part of the metanarrative of family in general, which is such a strong narrative in our culture? Is ours simply a narrative underlying the metanarrative of American Family Values?

In that the narrative of our adoption operates behind all of the stories of my identity, of our identity as a family, I think it could be considered a metanarrative. In that it operates within the metanarrative of family, our cultural values and beliefs, our cultural “story” of family, if you will, our naturalization of family as we structure and organize it, it is just a narrative.

But as we’ve been saying– “just a narrative” is not nothing.

Let’s go back a minute, though. I can’t touch it. The narrative. Us. Meant to be a family. I can talk about the self, the post-structural subject being constructed by discourse from now until Kingdom Come (as my mother might say), but the meant-to-be-a-family narrative is the big one. I can play with it. I can talk about breaking it, disrupting it, where it contradicts itself, how it’s constructed and by what powers.

And through those actions, I can open up new avenues of freedom, of movement, of possibility, for my birth mother’s story, for example, and that’s a good thing. I can analyze and contest the practices that wrote her story, that wrote our story, even, and that gave her only one line in it. I can even analyze and contest the practices that wrote us as a family.

But I can’t, really, touch that narrative.

I just don’t believe we were not meant to be a family.

And that’s where it becomes, for me, an intellectual game, something to toy with, something that stops, always, short of me feeling anything. And makes me a fraud.

And what would I feel if I could touch it, really? My brother’s disconnect from the family?

And why can’t I touch it? Am I not ready, intellectually, emotionally? Are we seeing the power of the metanarrative?

Because I don’t mean, here, that I back off from feeling anything, like when you tentatively touch a bruise to see how much it still hurts, and you yank your hand away when you sense the pain about to start.

I mean, there’s no bruise. There’s no hand. It’s all pretend.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tiltling Planet, Charles Wallace Murray, who you might remember from A Wrinkle in Time, gets blown into a projection. The unicorn he is traveling with, Gaudior, tells him, “We’re still here, in your own Where, although it is not yet a real When.”

Charles Wallace asks, “Will it be?”

“It is one of the Projections we have been sent to try to prevent. The Echthroi will do everything in their power to make it real,” Gaudior answers.

I think L’Engle’s Projections are like narratives–evil, purposeful incarnations of narratives that culturally and ideologically and through our social class inscribe us–narratives that construct and constrain us, that write our lives for us, or that we, if we’re lucky, can see and prevent. Either way, they’re a place to stand, and to look around, to be.

Do I need a place to stand, a place from which to be, and this is what I’ve chosen? Don’t we all need a place to stand?

Has this narrative not yet constricted my freedom, my agency, in such a way that I need to break it? Have I become as savvy as some of my students, who say, “Yes, I see what this text is trying to do to me, and I don’t care?”

Or am I kidding myself?

The Echthroi have won.

I’m in the Matrix.

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