Spoiler: it’s not because they are getting unemployment checks.
Working as a server or bartender is hard work. Like retail work, you have to smile while putting up with rude or demanding customers. Back when I was a bartender, one irate customer spat his false teeth at me.
Danielle Geller shares her efforts to reclaim her mother in a quiet, yet powerful voice that’s substantially free of retrospective editorializing. For readers who want to learn a life lesson along with the memoirist, this absence of “and now I know” observations may disappoint. For me, it was refreshing to read a memoir that kept that sort of clutter out of a story. Geller’s mother leaves her home on the Navajo reservation at nineteen, marries Geller’s father, and has three daughters. Alcohol takes over her life and she’s unable to care for her children; Geller grows up with one sister and their paternal grandmother. She has little contact with her mother and none with her mother’s family, and when her mother dies, Geller gradually takes steps to understand her mother, her mother’s family, and her mother’s culture. Her search for a true image of her mother has universal elements beyond the personal details of her story. Adoptees, foster care survivors, and others separated from their mothers as children will recognize the complexities of a child’s feelings toward an absent mother, how one carries those feelings into adulthood, the drive to connect with blood relatives, and how family separation creates generational loss. As an adoptee in reunion with my maternal family, Geller’s words rang true. As a writer and reader, I was swept up in the story, the structure, the imagery, and the wisdom. Looking forward to Danielle Geller’s next book.
One of Medium’s best ideas in 2021 has been starting the #StopAsianHate blog. I’m looking forward to reading and learning more about what life is like for people who identify as Asian in the present day and in the past. Reading has been an important way for me to educate myself about racism and anti-racism.
I’m especially hoping that Medium will include voices of transracial and transnational adoptees who identify as Asian, like J.S. Lee who writes about the trauma of transnational adoption for Yes! magazine
As a domestic adoptee, I feel a sense of solidarity with all adoptees. We all bring an outsider’s perspective with us to some extent, but people adopted from other countries and into families of other races often have an especially keen perspective on American culture. In any conversation about #StopAsianHate, the words of transracial and transnational Asian adoptees make a critical contribution, as so many have been “reckoning with racial identity and systems that tolerate and encourage racism” all of their lives.
As part of the announcement about the new blog, Medium sent an email asking folks to participate with some #StopAsianHate writing prompts, including “What does it mean to be co-laborers to advance racial justice? What does allyship look like to you?”
So what does allyship with Asian-Americans look like for me, a little old 97% white lady?
First, I’ll out myself as a disabled person: traveling and showing up at demonstrations are both difficult for me. I spend most of my time at home, but I am an avid reader and writer. My allyship takes the form of promoting Asian American literature by writing and publishing reviews of new books. Books from independent presses are usually the ones that get my attention. I publish the reviews on my blog, Amazon, and Goodreads, and sometimes the reviews are published online by literary magazines.
If you’re looking to read work by Asian American writers, I’ve included links to several of my favorite authors’ webpages at the end of this article. Meanwhile, here’s reviews of two recent books by Asian American adoptees that I enjoyed:
Famous Adopted Peopleby Alice Stephens (@AliceKSStephens) kept my attention riveted from start to finish, like a roller coaster ride through a kaleidoscope. It’s a book that switches gears a lot, and the author manages the transitions very well, partly because the novel is told through the perspective of a single protagonist who has a distinct voice. Lisa, a multiracial international adoptee from Korea who grew up with white adoptive parents in America, is a hard-drinking, work-shirking young woman whose close friendship with Mindy, another international adoptee, blows up when the two young women are traveling in Asia. What starts out as a story about friendship and identity becomes a crime mystery/political thriller/cultural criticism story with a little magic realism and a good bit of humor thrown in.
This was a very satisfying read for me. It kept me up at night and it kept me thinking. The whiplash ways of this novel seemed to me to be a meta-metaphor for the situation of transracial and international adoptees whose lives, like all adoptees’ lives, begin with the emotional whiplash of family separation and are further complicated by the cultural whiplash of being raised by a family that is obviously not their family of origin.
I love reading stories about adoption — fiction or nonfiction — because I was separated from my family by adoption as an infant, and I need stories that represent my experience. As a domestic adoptee, there are significant differences between my experiences and those of Lisa, the novel’s main character, but I still identified strongly with her questions about her own identity and her sense of alienation.
If you’re looking for a classic page-turner, I highly recommend this novel. And if you’re looking for insight on the adoptee experience, I highly recommend it for that reason, too. [originally published on my blog]
Cleaveby Tiana Nobile is a poetry collection of magnitude and fascination, spanning continents, history, and personal obsessions. I started reading it one evening after dinner and stayed up late with it, still reading. As poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi notes on the publisher’s page, “With breathtaking lyric beauty and formidable formal range, Nobile details the intimate effects of the international adoption industrial complex on children and parents caught up in a system’s unrelenting hunger. This is a book of remarkable compassion and real horror. Its stories will be news to many and all too familiar to others.”
Most, perhaps all, people who are adopted by strangers have experienced feelings of loss and alienation and an absence of knowledge about their origins. I’m a domestic adoptee, and Tiana Nobile identifies as a Korean American adoptee, so there are important distinctions in our two experiences of adoption, but her stories are still “all too familiar” to me. In a series of poems titled “Abstract” that are spaced out in the collection Nobile works with the abstraction that looms in absence. All these poems begin with wide, white space, visually illustrating the blank page that many of us face.
Mother without a face looks in the mirror. I wonder what creases we share. I wonder how long her hair is. I wonder if she chews on the inside of her mouth until the skin is chafed pulp . . . (10)
Adoption is often portrayed as a private family matter, but it’s a cultural practice, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The adoptee experience of loss and alienation can be exacerbated in transnational and transracial adoptions in a country like the U.S., where racism and anti-immigrant hate poison communities, families, and individuals. Tiana Nobile’s poems place her personal experience of adoption in that wider community and in a historical continuum of American imperialism in Asian countries, making this a critical book for our critical times.
It’s also an aesthetically rich book, full of sensory delight in language and provocative use of many traditional elements of poetry like internal rhyme, organic form, alliteration, and startling imagery, much of which is taken from the “monkey love” science experiments of the 1960’s that separated newborn monkeys from their mothers in a study of maternal deprivation. From “Mother of Wire” (43)
Call me Rhesus Young and Moonless monkey without a cloth to dust her bones
A variety of intriguing formats in addition to the “Abstract” poems are included in the collection. For example, in “Where Are You Really From?” Nobile employs a justified prose poem format. A list of place names in the U.S. create a mystery narrative — one that illuminates the empty past of people separated from mother, family, culture, language, and history
Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Fertile, Iowa. Uncertain, Texas. Hazard, Nebraska. Accident, Maryland. Why, Arizona. Hell, Michigan. Disappointment, Kentucky. Embarrass, Minnesota. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Nameless, Tennessee. No Name, Colorado. Nada, Texas. Nothing, Arizona. (9)
Many of the poems mine science (or pseudo-science) for information on the mother-infant bond and details about fetal and infant Nobile’s poem, “Lost First Languages Leave Permanent Mark on The Brain, New Study Reveals,” uses this headline format to introduce a final meditation on what is lost
How do I translate the sound of my mother’s moaning? It’s a soft wail I hang on the wall of my windpipe (44)
A few more brilliant Asian American writers with recent brilliant books are graphic memoirist Mira Jacob (I wanted to give her Good Talk to everyone I know!), novelist Matthew Salesses (existentialism updated for a quirky 21st century), and Steph Cha (literary fiction meets crime drama meets recent history).
Writing even a very short review on Goodreads or Amazon for a book you enjoyed can have a significant impact on sales. It’s an effective way to support Asian writers doing the important work of bringing their stories into the light.
Read everything from Michele Sharpe — and more.
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Most parents do their best for their children, but they make mistakes along the way. It’s part of being human. Toxic parents, those who physically or emotionally abuse their children, are another thing entirely.
Either way, forgiveness is one option, whether it means letting another person off the hook for how they hurt you, or letting yourself off the hook of staying hurt.
Forgiveness has many faces. For me, forgiveness meant going no-contact with my two adoptive parents.
Use this friend link to get to the full article on Medium.
What are your thoughts on forgiveness and going no-contact with others?
The world, and especially the U.S., needs more #adopteevoices.
The U.S. adoption industry operates now and historically as a money machine rife with corruption, misogyny, oppression, racism, and exploitation. All of these institutional characteristics work to silence adoptees. So when a book by an adoptee gets released, I celebrate!
Cleave is a poetry collection of magnitude and fascination. I started reading it one evening after dinner and stayed up late with it, still reading. As one critic notes, “With breathtaking lyric beauty and formidable formal range, Nobile details the intimate effects of the international adoption industrial complex on children and parents caught up in a system’s unrelenting hunger. This is a book of remarkable compassion and real horror. Its stories will be news to many and all too familiar to others.”
I’m a domestic adoptee, and Tiana Nobile identifies as a Korean American adoptee, so there are important distinctions in our two experiences of adoption, but her stories are “all too familiar” to me.” Most, perhaps all, people who are adopted by strangers experience feelings of loss, alienation, of not fitting in.
Adoption doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The adoptee experience of loss and alienation can be exacerbated in transnational and transracial adoptions in a country like the U.S., where racism and anti-immigrant hate poison communities, families, and individuals. Tiana Nobile’s poems place a personal experience of adoption in that wider community and in a historical continuum. This is a critical book for critical times.
It’s also an aesthetically rich book, full of sensory delight in language and provocative use of many traditional elements of poetry like internal rhyme, organic form, alliteration, and startling imagery.
The poems in Cleave make expert use of a wide variety of intriguing formats. For example, in “Where Are You Really From?” Nobile employs a prose poem format that’s a list of place names in the U.S. that create a mystery narrative — one that illuminates the the empty past of people separated from family, culture, language, and history. A series of poems titled “Abstract” begin with white space, illustrating the absence of knowledge. The famous “monkey love” science experiments that separated newborn monkeys from their mothers is a recurring source of images.
Many of the poems mine science (or pseudo-science) for information on the mother-infant bond and details about fetal and infant development, a technique shared by the writer of the second book discussed here. Nobile’s poem, “Lost First Languages Leave Permanent Mark on The Brain, New Study Reveals,” uses this headline format to to introduce a meditation on what is lost:
Megan Culhane Galbraith‘s genre-bending book, The Guild of the Infant Savior also kept me reading late into the night. I finished this 300 page collection of essays and visual art in two sittings. Galbraith’s artwork consists mainly of compositions of dollhouses and dolls from the 1960’s, the era in which she was born and then adopted. The visuals work in conversation with the text, but also with the history of women and motherhood.
The text often relies on poetic devices like juxtaposition and repetition to create meaning without overt explanation. But there are also plenty of insightful and direct observations about the adopted state, like these:
“As an adopted child, I’d felt like a thing to be played with instead of a person with her own identity.”
“Many pro-life groups use the term proadoption, but I am not their poster child.”
“I continually try on identities and feel like an actor in my own personal theater productions of The Good Child or Don’t Ever Leave Me Again or See, I Am Worthy of [insert here: Love, Kindness, Joy, Pleasure].”
Like Tiana Nobile, Galbraith explores historical and scientific beliefs about maternal separation. Her installations of period doll houses and dolls (photographed for inclusion in the book) re-create a “mothercraft” degree program at Cornell University in the 1960’s that used infants from orphanages as “practice babies” for students. Like the creators of the “monkey love” experiments, the architects of the Domecon program demonstrated a callous disregard for the emotional states of their subjects, in this case human babies who were put under the care of a rotating series of undergraduates. These babies were seen as in need of middle class remediation, and were later adopted anonymously. Galbraith herself was not a “Domecon baby,” but she spent her first five months in foster care wearing a mechanical brace to correct a medical condition before being adopted anonymously. The parallels are apparent.
The Guild of the Infant Savior publishes May 21, 2021. Pre-order the book here
Many thanks to the publisher, Mad Creek Books, for providing an advance review copy.
One of the happiest parts of aging for me has been seeing many of my nieces and nephews get free from addiction.
Addiction is truly a family disease — not only a genetic predisposition that people can inherit, but also a disease that can thrust a whole family into chaos along with the individual who is actively addicted.
All five of my brothers died young from addiction-related conditions. Those that had children passed addiction on. When the first young person in my family got sober, it had a domino effect. It showed others that being free of drugs and alcohol was possible for people in our family, and that life could be immeasurably better.
Here’s a friend link to a story about addiction and incarceration in my family.
Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a man’s rape conviction because the victim, a woman, was voluntarily intoxicated. Minnesota laws (and the laws of 39 other states) do not include voluntary intoxication as a circumstance that can make consent impossible.
Yeah, that pissed me off.
Modern American laws against rape can trace their origins 2,000 years ago to the Romans. The laws were enacted to protect men’s property interests in their chaste wives and daughters, and it’s been a shitshow ever since. Even with the positive changes to sexual assault laws (thank you, feminism!), in Minnesota and 39 other states, rapists can declare open season on people who choose to get drunk
Here’s a friend link to get you past the Medium paywall if you’d like to read on.
Everything you’ve heard is true: Gale Massey’s characters are filled with desires, ambitions, misgivings, and the whole range of human emotions. They are people whose fates you need to know.
Massey’s figurative language is often stunning and powerful, contributing to each story’s plot, characterization, and emotional tone. The opening of “Racine,” for example, describes the inevitability of the story’s conflict and its stoic emotional tone with “The minutes gather at her feet, pooling there like water seeping through a crack below a door.”
This collection illuminates many of the dark corners of what it means to be a woman in a time and place where women are [still] at the mercy of woman-hating policies, whether those are governmental, individual, or family policies.
In artistic terms and in terms of human relevance, Massey’s stories deliver. The short form gives her characters and themes the right amount of space to entice and then surprise. Most of all, these intense short stories succeed as literary page-turners readers will find irresistible.
Thanks to NetGalley for an advance review copy of this short story collection.
Trauma changes the human brain. My experience is that those changes are permanent. I used to be one of those people who believed in “getting over it,” but I’ve come to realize that’s impossible, at least for me. Other people’s anger, loud noises, and sudden movements near my head don’t cause me physical pain, but they cause a profound fear response. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten, rage spreads up to the top of my head, and my feet are ready to run. It’s a non-verbal surge, part automatic fight-or-flight response, part memory of black eyes, broken nose, split eyebrows, split lips, and welts inflicted on me decades ago when I was a child and a young woman.
Like a lot of women and girls, I was beaten because of my gender. The violence was personal, but it was also systemic. We live in a culture that accepts brutality against women. It’s been important to me, as an adult, to argue against this brutality, but sometimes, in conversations, the traumas I experienced have stopped me cold. I’ve been unable to reply to people who dismiss violence against women with phrases like “If it was so bad, why didn’t she leave?” It’s a failing beyond the sort of “I wish I’d said X” when we think of a snappy comeback to someone after the fact. The changes in my brain take over and silence me.
Accepting that my gut reactions can be beyond my rational control has been difficult for me, but talking with and helping other women who’ve been victims of misogynist violence has led me to a place of compassion for myself and my failings. The final chapter in the memoir I serialized this year on Medium is one story of arriving at that place. Here’s a friend link to the story that will get you past the paywall.