Dating an Adopted Person, Voyager 1, and the Pale Blue Dot
One thing about teaching writing is that I often spend time getting people to slow down when they read their work out loud. They went to all this trouble to put words on a page and then they read as if the paper is on fire.
Or they read as if they are trying to say something important and they know any second someone is going to tell them to be quiet and so they’re trying to get in as much as possible before the hook arrives.
Or they read like they know the audience isn’t listening anyway and so they just want to get the farce of presenting quality work over so they can go back to thinking about what they will say next time.
Or they read as if they are trying to blend all the words into one long word so the audience can’t hear what they are actually saying.
All of these are ways of not fully showing up. Of not feeling really good about yourself.
I realized the other day that 51% of the time I feel good, even really good, and 49% of the time I feel like I am the flip side of the 51% person. It’s hard to process how I can go from being a 9 or 10 on the 1-10 happiness scale, and then, in a heartbeat, I can go down to a 2 or 3, almost unable to move.
This behavior is destructive to relationships. It’s like my friend or boyfriend thinks they are hanging out with a balloon and suddenly I become a leaded claw. They don’t know what they did wrong. They don’t know where I went, who is there in my place, and I can’t tell them because my mouth and spirit is full of lead.
I have been with HBL for a year now, and no one has worked harder to understand a person, perhaps, than HBL has worked to understand me. He has two adopted sons, so he’s interested in what it means to be with an adopted person for many reasons beyond the fact that he (I want to write here says he, but that’s just so adopted) loves me. He has practically memorized April Dinwoodie’s Born in June, Raised in April episode on dating and he asks questions, checks in, tries his best to love my strife away, but I am the 49% Anne this week, and HBL is struggling to understand.
Something happened and I don’t know exactly what it was, but I am in the place where I feel like an empty tin can. I have no resources, no resiliency. Everything touches bottom and so everything makes me feel sad and empty. This week I finished a rewrite of a screenplay (about adoption). I interviewed two adoptees where they talked quite a bit about depression and addiction. My daughter left for a semester abroad. All of these things were interesting and really funny at points even though they had moments of deep sadness, and they had me high on the energy of community and connection, and then I was walking down the street to get some lunch and it was like the color drained from the world and my feet were in molasses and instead of flesh and blood, I was made of wrong.
My first impulse is to apologize. I’m sorry I’m like this. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have spent a lifetime of thinking of reasons for why I feel the way I do. I have a lot on my mind. I feel fat. I didn’t do well on a test. Someone said something that made me unhappy. My hair is wrong. I ate something I shouldn’t have. I need to eat. I need to not work out so much. I need to work out more. Maybe I am getting the flu. Maybe I am low on Vitamin D. Maybe I don’t even like you. Maybe everything in my life is wrong. Maybe I need to quit my job, sell my car, get out of town. Maybe I just need to disappear. But I have run out of apologies. It's like the batteries in my flashlight finally ran out of juice and I can't try to peer into the dark of myself for the source any more. They feelings just come. And just as there isn't a separation between mind and body, this is no separation between me and these thoughts. It's all one thing, and so I don't need to figure it out or apologize because it's just who I am.
This morning I was listening to a recent Radiolab episode, Where the Sun Don’t Shine. It was about Voyager 1 and 2 and as soon as the show was over, I listened to it again. Just thinking about the show brings me to tears. It was so beautiful.
Two things in particular moved me. The first was that NASA had created a sort of time capsule, a golden record, full images and sounds of what life is like on Earth. Imagine the selection process! The idea was to create this record and then shoot it out to interstellar space where, maybe, there would be some life force who would be able to access this man-made document and hear Bach, see pictures of Isaac Newton’s work, see a photograph of Egypt, hear the sound of brain waves (the brain of Ann Druyan, who two days before the recording, had professed her love for Carl Sagan after he had professed his to her, a wildly romantic story that is worth its own golden record). The sound of a mother’s first kiss is also on the record.
It’s this sort of thing that can flip me from 51% to 49%. I can be out hiking my favorite hilly loop, enjoying the breeze, and suddenly I can be reminded that something most of the world takes for granted. Of course your mother held you when you were born. Of course she kissed you, probably didn’t happen with me, and, defying the logic of but you can’t remember, but why does it even matter, but it’s 52 years later and why are you being such a baby? I am back to being at the metallic bottom of my self, rattling in loss.
And it gets so old.
Like: are you kidding me? Again? I still haven’t learned? I’m still going to go there?
I have had no mercy on myself for so long. Just get over it, I tell myself. Buck up.
Over the years I relied on many painkillers to help me over the hump: caffeine, sugar, spending money, dating/having sex, running, but now I don’t use any of them, not even really out of choice: they just stopped working. So now I write and lay it all out and look at it.
This is what I see.
It’s the second thing (of many) that deeply moved me on the Radiolab podcast. Having travelled 3.7 billion miles, Voyager 1 was done with its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, having photographed the planets, Carl Sagan requested that Voyager 1 turn around and photograph Earth, and NASA complied.
Now known as the Pale Blue Dot, in the photograph our planet shows as a speck, a pale blue dot, in a beam of light. If you’ve never listened to Carl Sagan talk about it, listen here. It’s one of those lectures that sounds like it was etched in stone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M
In our lives, we journey out into the space of who am I and what will I do next, and we look back and the pale blue dot of our home to see where we are headed, to see where we were. We look back for perspective, for self-understanding, for a sense of home. We look back for strength, for to love our origin helps us love ourselves.
When my birth mother refused contact with me, I became less of myself. I am working to repair this damage.
Do you see how complicated it is to be adopted? You can be listening to a podcast about NASA and suddenly you are swimming in preverbal abandonment issues, your brain and body weakened. Do you see that if I were a person reading my life to you, how I would want to read rapidly since the hope of you or me actually understanding would be slim to none? But do you also see the waste in this, the necessity for slowing down, even though there will be confusion and pain? Because there will also be love and relief. To be heard is to be seen and to be heard and to be seen is to be loved.
A pale blue dot in a stream of light holds so much. Jesus was on that dot. Monty Python. Rabbits. Pencils. Dinosaurs. Skyscrapers. Penicillin. Me. You. Our children. Our children’s children. Music. Dance. Love.
My birth mother was on that dot. My birth father. From 3.7 miles there is no space between us. We are the same being.
And suddenly everything is okay.
Thank you, Radiolab. You do such amazing work.
If you liked this post, please consider buying my book You Don’t Look Adopted. If you didn’t like it, the invitation still holds.