Day 93 - Sliding into Home Plate
A few years ago I went to a writing retreat in Montana. I had used my emergency credit card because the person who ran the retreat told me she could do what no one else had been able to do: get me to write a book.
During my private hour for writing feedback (that I had paid extra for), the retreat leader and I tried to figure out what form I should use to tell my story. A series of short stories? Essays? Fake Ted Talks?
A problem was that neither of us was sure what my story actually was, what I had to offer the reader as far as a developed narrative. The more pieces I told her, the more lost we became in the maze of an adopted person’s mind and life. I would say one thing, but then the opposite would also be true. This happened over and over, and it was like trying to pin down a cloud.
As an adoptee, being with a writing teacher was like being with a therapist (for I had never talked with an adoption-competent therapist until I was writing about adoption). They would focus on the winding stories I told them and we would talk or write and go down rabbit holes but never come to the central point: I had lost my original mother, and in that loss, I lost myself.
Without a central point, writing lacks cohesion, purpose, and delight. When you focus on stories and events and beliefs that are based on misconceptions and lose the sense of truth and beauty in the narrative line of your life--the truth that we are all perfect beings and that everything is as it should be, even when it hurts, because it is what it is--you waste your energy railing against a thunderstorm, and you miss the startling wonder of the lightning.
And you can't remember why you wanted to write.
Stories are about, among other things, characters. Memoirs are no exception: I is a developed character, for the author is creates a person in the reader’s mind through language. A standard way to develop character in writing is to have a firm grasp on his or her core beliefs. Someone’s belief system and moral compass steer the ship of their choices and decisions.
This is where being adopted and/or not being firmly rooted in your sense of self can be a problem and writing with any sustained authority becomes nearly impossible.
If I had to draw in the shape of a tree the set of core beliefs I had most of my life, there would be a tree and then a Siamese twin tree alongside. One trunk would be labelled I am safe. The twin trunk would be labelled I am not safe.
The main branches would travel in shadowy pairs: I am loved/I am unlovable. I am valuable/I am worthless. I am real/I am not real.
It is tiring, exhausting, to a person’s body, a person’s mind, a person’s nervous system, a person’s family, a person’s friends, to be a human being steered by core beliefs that flip on a dime. It’s like trying to be a skirt and a window at the same time.
The cool thing is that the retreat did give me what I needed even if personally the retreat leader could not. The last night we were all supposed to read something we had written, and I read something I’d done a few weeks earlier—a silly little story I was carrying around in my backpack about being relinquished as a baby. I read it as a way to be dismissive, to make it clear that I hadn’t gotten anything out of the retreat, to show that I had written so little of worth while I was there I had to resort to reading this ridiculous piece of work. At least that’s why I think I read it. On reflection, I’m guessing my subconscious really wanted an audience for what felt like the most personal (and therefore most ridiculous!) thing I’d ever written.
The great gift of the retreat was seeing how people reacted to my silly story about being born and losing my first mother. People were listening. A few were crying. I had touched on the center of my grief and I got to see my feelings (even though they were buried and numb) properly mirrored by others. This led to Kitty Stockett telling me I could have her NYC apartment to write, and that led me to decide I was going to write my story--an extended version of the story I had told on the flashcards--and that led me to writing the book I had been trying to write for over thirty years.
One beauty of writing is that if you stick with the truth of each sentence, you end up with a tree of truth based on acceptance, love, and belonging, for the misconceptions your mind holds can't stand up to the scrutiny of logic and love.
So now I'm here, still writing, and today I finished my 93-day project. I blogged every day for three months. I got the perfect poop. I quit drinking coffee. I lost some weight (not one of the goals, but I bought a belt). I went surfing with Frosty Hesson (or, really, I lay on a board and Frosty pushed me into a gentle swell). I had an increased sense of confidence in myself: I said I was going to do it and I did! All of these things were ways to help me cultivate the tree of I am valuable; I am safe; I am lovable; I am real.
Tomorrow I start the book 93 Ways to Feel Good as an Adopted Person or How I Ended Up Surfing with Frosty Hesson. A number of friends have already contributed, and I think it will be a valuable asset to adoptees and those who love them.
I’m also starting business called 93 days and me where I offer retreats and coaching programs (I’m a story midwife) so other people can do what I did: finish a writing project because, as my business card says done is fun. I’m going to lay off social media for three months and focus on making a living.
I have to tell you that after all of this I don’t think there is anyone who can pull a story out of a another human being like I can. Excavating the light inside people is my greatest joy. I have this laser focus for bullshit, developed over the decades I spend swimming in it, and I can cut through all sorts of murk to get to the heart of the heart of the matter.
I am valuable. I am safe. I am loveable. I am real.
And so are you.