The Fine Line Between Integrity and Graduation, and How it Got Crossed

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , on March 14, 2013 by chateaucone

 

 

THE (OPPRESSIVELY OBLIGATORY) TABLE OF CONTENTS

(WITHOUT WHICH THE WRITER HAS BEEN TOLD SHE

WOULD NOT GRADUATE)[1]*

 

 

Chapter                                                                               Page

       I                INTRODUCTION TO THE 
                         DISSERTATION……………………………………….. 1

                       
      II               COMPOUND FRACTURE…………………………….. 4

                       
     III              ARCHIVED DOCUMENTS……………………………. 5

     IV              INVENTORY……………………………………………… 8

                       
      V               THE HALF LIFE OF STONE………………………….. 11

                       
     VI              BEDTIME STORIES……………………………………… 16

     VII            DEAR BIOGRAPHER, PART II……………………….. 26

                        
    VIII            THE WRITING STORY OF “BEDTIME STORIES”… 90
                                        Conventions and Professional Contexts…. 90
                                        Personal Contexts and Ethical Questions. 103

     IX              NAVIGATING OUR SUBJECT POSITIONS:
                        THE PLACE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN OUR 
                        CHANGING FIELD………………………………………… 112

      X               ADOPTION…………………………………………………… 126

                       
     XI              WHAT THE ADOPTION AGENCY COULD
                        HAVE TOLD ME…………………………………………….. 137

     XII              A LETTER TO VALENTINA WASSON………………… 170

    XIII             EMAIL…………………………………………………………. 178

    XIV             SELECTIONS: THIS IS NOT MY NARRATIVE……….. 201

     XV              HYMNS TO THE LARES……………………………………. 250

    XVI             REINVENTING THE FYC NARRATIVE ESSAY
                         ASSIGNMENT AS NARRATIVE INQUIRY:
                         MOVING BEYOND THE PURELY PERSONAL TO
                         HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL DENOTATION 
                        AND CONNOTATION…………………………………………270

   XVII            THE REINCARNATION OF JULIA……………………… 280

  XVIII           OVARY…………………………………………………………. 291

    XIX             HENRIETTA, THE BLESSED MOTHER AND MY 
                         FALL FROM GRACE…………………………………………. 300

     XX              FURTHER SELECTIONS: THIS IS NOT
                         MY NARRATIVE……………………………………………… 314

    XXI             WORKS CITED…………………………………………………. 338


[1] The reader should note that this Table of Contents is neither necessary nor appropriate to this dissertation in that its imposed page and chapter numbers imply and attempt to prescribe a specific and correct order in which the various and sundry sections of the document must be read, when no such prescription is intended; in fact the opposite is true. This Table of Contents is included under protest and should be ignored by any reader who is not employed by the Teachers College, Columbia University Office of Doctoral Studies. Upon reading this dissertation, one may even wonder how such a progressive institution as Columbia University could demand such a thing, when the addition of said Table of Contents clearly flies in the face of the goals of the dissertation itself, and as such is highly inappropriate. Yes, the writer agrees; one may well wonder. So much for the liberatory goals of higher education.

*Ironically, the writer was not allowed to include THIS Table of Contents in her dissertation, and was instead forced to include a proper and appropriate and NOT SNARKY Table of Contents in her dissertation, again in the interest of graduation. However, the writer did sneak a version of the footnote into the body of the work.

The Birth Mother/Birthday Clairvoyance

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2013 by chateaucone

My birthday just passed, and it was, once again,  that weird day every year when I think I have some sort of mystical connection with my birth mother.

I figure my birthday is the one day of the year that she’ll definitely be thinking of me. I mean, she may be thinking of me on other days, but I can’t be sure of  which days those days are. Presumably, though, on the day I was born, 46 years ago, assuming she’s still alive–I mean, isn’t that the one day she’d be most likely to think of me?

So my birthday is sort of my place to stand in relation to my birth mother. I don’t know anything else about her (and as recent posts about DNA will attest, I don’t even know what I thought I knew).

And sometimes I need a place to stand.

Angel Guardian refused to give me that place, literally. I wandered around that building with my mother and our tour guide and asked all sorts of questions to determine if my birth mother had even ever set foot in any spot in the building at any time, and all I got was, “She may have, but she may have blah blah blah instead.”

“Just give me a spot,” I wanted to say. “A place she stood. For a minute. Forty years ago. C’mon.”

I can only stand in time, in a moment, think about her, and wait for something. I don’t know what. A sign. A shiver. The snap of a synapse. A flash of recognition in the mitochondria of a brain cell–so fast and small as to be very nearly missed, only felt in the echo.

This is somehow less satisfactory than being on a different continent than someone you love and looking at the same moon at the same time.

And anyway, here’s what really happens around my birthday. On the days leading up to my birthday, I think, “Oh. I have to remember to think about my birth mother on my birthday, because that’s the one day she’ll probably be thinking of me.” And then, on my actual birthday, I forget to do it. Or I do it sort of incidentally or half-heartedly. Not hard enough. Not in a meditating sort of way. Not in the engaged, forget-the-world-around-me sort of way that a spark would need to leap across the psychic synapses.

And then I feel bad for not trying harder. For forgetting to try harder.

This much didn’t even occur to me until I was about 40. All those years of possible psychic connection, wasted.

And what about her? What if my birth mother, after, say, thirty years or so, now goes through the whole day of my birthday without thinking of me, and remembers, maybe, only as she’s going to bed? Or only if she happens to write a check? How would she feel then? Would she feel bad for forgetting? Would she feel relieved? Relieved that she made it through the day, the big day, without thinking about the child she gave up, without being sad? Is she sad? Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of me to assume she’s sad? It’s been nearly half a century. Maybe she just put it all behind her. Maybe she repressed the whole thing and never thinks about it. I make all these assumptions–everyone around me does–that of course she thinks of me on my birthday. Of course. Of course.

But what do those assumptions mean? That she’s been miserable and missing me for 46 years? That’s not cool.

How do I want her to be feeling? What message do I want her to be sending me?

Just like the one I want to send to her: “Hey. I know you’re out there. I’m good. I hope you are too.”

The Time-Shampoo Continuum

Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 2, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: January 1

I have been using the same shampoo since 2008.

I know this because last night, I was trying to remember if I own a particular book, and so instead of going through the bookshelves, or the closets, I looked it up on Amazon, and ended up browsing through my purchase history for the past twelve years.

(Yes, I buy shampoo on Amazon. Free shipping. Cheaper giant size. No, not the same bottle since 2008.)

The point is, I have been using the same shampoo since 2008. At least.

How lame is that? Same brand. Same scent.

Time goes really fast as you get old. It’s crazy. It goes so fast that you don’t even notice that you are using the SAME SHAMPOO for four years. Four. Years.

Holy crap. I spent New Years Eve browsing my Amazon purchase history.

Resolved

Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 1, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 31

This is the first year in a long time that my New Years Resolution isn’t “Finish my dissertation.”

And frankly, that feels kind of weird. I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

Usually, about this time of year, I’m trying to remember what my dissertation is about, and where I left off, and whether or not I can actually do what I set out to do when I started writing. Or whether I even want to.

This year, I am absent that sort of panic.

I am, however, having my usual New Year Fit of Organization. I just placed an order at the Container Store. All sorts of boxes and bins to organize my life and my desk.

I have, for years, thought this was a dissertation procrastination tool, but maybe not, because it’s lingering. The biggest post-dissertation indulgence I’ve been looking forward to is reorganizing my bookshelves, and purging. All the books I used for my dissertation that I don’t LOVE, or that didn’t change my life, or that I thought I was going to use, but didn’t–gone.

Imagine, on the shelves of your local Good Will, such choice items as Uncommon Sense: Theoretical Practice in Language Education,  or Writing the Qualitative Dissertation, or Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing or even  Autobiography and Postmodernism (although I think I might want to keep that one). Oh, but definitely The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Someone might actually pick that one up.

Just let me know and I can hold any one of these for you.

And then, post-purge, I will create a new, fright-inducing, section of “Books I Have Bought But Not Yet Read,” aka “Books I Think I Should Read,” to inspire me both to read, and to stop buying.

Post-dissertation, I like to use “post-” as a prefix for EVERYTHING.

Post-creation of the new “Books I Think I Should Read” section, I will stop saying “should.”

And think about what I could do next.

Be it resolved.

Sound Check

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 28

I’m not a music person.

Maybe that’s too strong.

I don’t seek out new bands and new music and I don’t really fall in love with certain artists for the long haul. I do consistently like certain musicians, like Beck, or like . . . right now I can’t think of anyone else.

I am still listening to the playlist I titled, “Liz’s Favs” on my first iPod in 2005–this is the same playlist that accompanied me all across Europe that same year, and certain songs put me back in certain places, and not always for reasons that make sense.  “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails–I am on the train to Nuremburg. I had a terrible sinus infection, but I was determined to visit the Nazi Museum and the Christmas Market. Quite the combination for one very full day of traveling. “Mr. Brightside”?–The Alps. No idea why. “The Real Slim Shady”–the park I used to walk through every day in Prague, singing tonelessly at the top of my lungs, as though not speaking Czech made me invisible, or whatever the sound version of invisible is.

The Kinks “Destroyer”–not Europe but the Henry Hudson Parkway as it goes through Riverdale. Not good. Makes me drive crazy.

And yet, a twist of fate puts me in the car while Sound Check on WNYC is on, all the time. Sound  Check is my least favorite WNYC/NPR radio show, and yet, it’s the one I listen to the most. And it’s become where I get whatever limited new music I add to my list.

Tonight Ann Powers was taking the NPR 2012 Music Survey, which you can also take. Powers is an NPR music critic, and her favorite newcomer of the year is Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff. I love, love, love her voice. Listen to her here. And thank you, Ann Powers. (Only one of their singles is available on iTunes, but the rest are on their website.)

Powers also gets a vote from me for calling “Glad You Came” by The Wanted, “the roofie anthem of the year.” I’ve had a problem with that song for a while.

And finally, the reason for this post: my vote for “Song that Makes Me Feel the Oldest,” which was unfortunately not a category on NPR’s survey: “We Are Young,” by Fun.

But let me back up a bit.

I didn’t mind turning 30. It felt liberating. So did turning 40. The older I get, the more I feel as though I can be exactly who I am, no apologies. I don’t hide from anyone how old I am, and I don’t thing age matters all that much as long as you’re doing something you love. I celebrate wrinkles. I think they mean you’ve lived.

(And I am absolutely not my father’s daughter when it comes to music. I don’t think everything after 1990 sucks. (To be clear, my father thinks everything after WWII sucks.) I don’t often update my list of favorites more because I’m lazy when it comes to music than because I don’t like anything new.)

But sometimes I am reminded–or maybe “forced to notice” is better–that I have, indeed, changed since I was twenty.

And Fun’s lyrics do that to me in a strange kind of way. They go like this:

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

I like to sing along with a song that’s fun to sing, no matter how cliched the lyrics. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by what I find myself singing. I know nothing about music. I am in fact still smarting from the time that pretentious guy in the Rainy Night House in the basement of Stony Brook’s student union said that REM’s “I am Superman” was for the fake fans, the ones just following the trends.

I like to sing along to the verse above of “We Are Young.” But singing it does make me feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m not young. At the very least, I am not the “young” these lyrics are about. And that struck me all of a sudden the first time I sang them really loud in the car.  I used to be that kind of young. I used to be in Fun’s audience.

But mostly, I realized that the idea of “setting the world on fire” has completely changed for me. “Setting the world on fire” used to mean knowing the guys in the band playing at Neptune’s on Dune Road and drinking and dancing on the stage as they sang. Going out in the middle of the night and stealing lawn signs that supported Republican candidates. Doing pretty much anything that would make a good story the next day. It meant, almost literally, burning “brighter than the sun,” and usually crashing spectacularly at the end of a night or a semester or a political campaign; but it also meant, in whatever misguided way, changing things, making noise, believing in something.

The thought of doing most of those things now just makes me tired. Or cold. Or dizzy.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing–the immaturity of my early 20s aside. Because I think that I get that same feeling from writing something spectacular, from challenging ideas and customs that haven’t been challenged before–that have been naturalized, mythologized (Barthes again)–from pushing, instead of behavior boundaries, genre boundaries.

Listen to me. I’m comparing pushing genre boundaries to trespassing and the theft of lawn signs. My twenty-year-old self would rail at the use of language like “genre boundaries” at all. F’ing theory head.

And that leaves me I do not know where. Conflicted. Not where I meant to be at the bottom of this post.

My Parents’ First Children

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 28, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 27

My parents had four kids before Mike and I were adopted. Joni, Jaci, Dave and Steve fill our photo albums, and star in all of our home movies, as though they are, indeed, my parents’ children. Their own parents make the occasional appearance in a home movie, but it’s clear my parents all but kidnapped my cousins for a few years there.

I think, sometimes, that if my parents had had children the usual way, instead of adopting Mike and me, my cousins are what those kids would look like–who Mike and I would be–since their parents are my mother’s brother and my father’s sister. Almost an alternate, parallel universe. A what if? come to life.

We almost don’t have to ask, “If we weren’t adopted, who would we be?” But of course it’s not that simple.

Here are my parents and my cousins, running around on the sidewalks of E. 2nd, along with a brief glimpse of my cousins’ parents, and even Grandma Cone.

Adopted: A State of Being

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 26

I got a phone call from the adoption agency today and I foolishly thought I was going to be given information of some sort.

As it turns out, a guy that works there was calling to tell me that a letter I’d sent–ages ago, I couldn’t even remember exactly when–needs to be notarized before the agency can answer my questions. For my own protection, of course. Ha.

One wonders why someone could not have called when they first received the letter to say it has to be notarized, instead of waiting for month, nearly a year, to respond at all. Feels like more “for my protection” nonsense.

After a lot of virtual (and fruitless) digging around on my hard drive, I found a copy of the letter that I emailed to myself, from my office computer, on March 27, 2011. Here is what it says:

Thank you for speaking with me on the telephone this morning. As we discussed, I am sending you this letter asking for some additional information regarding my adoption, which took place on 6/29/69.  

In 1994, I wrote to Angel Guardian asking for non-identifying information. The letter I received, a copy of which I have attached, said that my birthfather’s ethnic background was Indian-German. I am wondering whether the terminology, “Indian,” as used in 1967, would have referred to American Indian or Native American, or perhaps Indian, of Middle Eastern descent. Is there any additional information in my file that might clarify this part of my background?

Thank you for any information you can provide.

The question is now, after the DNA wrinkle, probably moo (a cow’s opinion) but I still want to know what Angel Guardian thought it was telling me, if that makes any sense. I am not assuming anything they tell me will be the truth.

And that brings me to today’s question: Why do I say, “I am adopted,” and not “I was adopted”? Being adopted is not like being Italian, or being British, or being of Middle Eastern descent, as the case may be. It is, presumably, a completed act. Right? I don’t know. Am I implying that it’s part of my very being, my DNA, somehow? A permanent condition?

During my dissertation defense, one of my readers asked, “What if we just said you’re not adopted?” He was asking, I think,  what if that category just didn’t exist? What if it’s just a discourse, language that was made up to differentiate something that really doesn’t need to be different? He said, “You were born. You have parents. They raised you. Who cares how you got them?”

At the time I was adopted, in the late 1960s, it was all about matching–about creating “natural” families out of the two social problems of unwed mothers and infertile married couples. If the child matched the adoptive parent, the adoption could be invisible.

I’ve argued in my dissertation and elsewhere that our adoption story was so good as to make my adoption seem like a fairy tale, like an incidental part of the story of how we became a family. It so naturalized our family that it removed, for me, the need for questions at all. We were meant to be a family. And we are.

This is one way, perhaps, of thinking about my reader’s question. But other families, I think, took that in another direction and actually hid the fact of the adoption, and the hiding makes it seem somehow wrong and sinister.

Both, though, silence the fact of the adoption, regardless of the intention.

What if we abolished, somehow, the distinction? Or, can we abolish the . . . I don’t know. . . the difference the distinction implies? And do we want to?

I guess it would be a beautiful thing if how you became a family was invisible–if the how didn’t matter. Kind of like if skin color became invisible, and we stopped identifying as one thing or another, and just were.

But wouldn’t it be just as beautiful a thing if how  you became a family was totally visible, and always celebrated, in all its myriad facets? And I think today that’s the more likely scenario. Or else I’m very naive. And that just might well be the case.

I think I’ve gotten away from the discourse part of this discussion, though. What does it say about our ideologies of family and blood and genetics and unwed mothers that we make this distinction? Is it separate but equal? Can it be?

What does how we write and talk about adoption tell us about just how this social practice fits into our values and beliefs about families? Can the very fact of the distinction between “adopted” and  “born to” be innocuous and benign?