Author Archives: Deborah Jiang Stein

Guest Post: JaeRan Kim on Adoption Story Lines

Adoption shows up in fiction and other tales, and to explore this further, I had the pleasure of an exchange with JaeRan Kim, a child welfare specialist, researcher, and transracial Korean adoptee.  This is a timely discussion given all the public dialogue recently about Melissa Harris-Perry and her off-hand remarks as a TV host about  transracial adoption and adoptive families.

jaeran1

Q. JaeRan, as a scholar and researcher in adoption and child welfare, what role do you believe fiction can play in the real-life intricacies of the adoption world?

A. I think as Erik Erikson theorized, one of the hallmarks of being human is the  experience of trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world; the whole “identity crisis” that most people experience is complicated when abandonment and adoption are at play. Fiction writers often seem to include abandonment and adoption themes in their stories because people understand the mental model/trope of the adopted person searching for their identity. It’s a short cut, although honestly sometimes I think it’s lazy on the part of the writer because it’s used SO OFTEN as a devise to explain a character’s “issues.”

Adoption themes in literature for some people who are adopted, birth/first parents, or adoptive parents (or extended family members of each) can be a source of healing, or a way to work through personal grief and loss, at a little more distance than say, going to talk therapy. It almost doesn’t matter if the experiences and themes of adoption as written in the story ring true for the reader with personal experience in adoption – whether the reader finds them to be honest and accurate portrayals of the experience or not, either way it can provide a starting point for reflection and deeper exploration.

For example, tons of great epic stories have adoption themes – these can be awesome for working with kids who are adopted or have experienced foster care. Movies/characters like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Harry Potter, all the superheros like Spiderman, Batman, Superman – all have lost their parents and are fostered/adopted, and the movies/stories I think do a great job of showing anger, loss, grief, search for identity, etc. So these can be normalizing for the adopted person because let’s face it, society expects adoptees to be grateful for being saved. So if a person is struggling with feelings of loss, grief, identity crisis – these stories can help normalize these feelings.

At the same time, it can be really frustrating to read a story involving adoption and feel my experiences have been completely misunderstood. I’ve read more than my share of stories with adoption themes and I get a pretty quick sense of whether I think the author did some real research and sought to understand adoption or whether they’re using it merely as a devise to get the reader to jump to certain conclusions instead of working on character development or plot rather than using the trope to do all the work for them.

Well-done adoption story lines can also open doors for those who don’t know much about the impact of adoption on those involved. I think there is the potential for greater understanding and compassion for just how much adoption has life-long ramifications for those of us with that experience.

Q. What would you hope authors of fiction consider when their characters or themes center around complex topics where related issues in the real world involve fierce politics, like in adoption?

A. I think you’ve just nailed it with your question actually – adoption is very complex and full of politics and most people, not just writers but most people in general, don’t know how diverse our thoughts/experiences/feelings can be. Nor do most know how political it is. I think authors include adoption themes for one of two reasons: they know someone with personal adoption experience (maybe it’s their own) or they want to use the adoption as a device in their story because adoption helps convey certain themes they’re after.

Either way, that’s limited information and I would hope that the author doesn’t fall into the trap that the single story (as Chimamande Adiche would warn us against) represents all our stories, and that the writer would do a lot of research. Read up on the orphan train movement, the Native American boarding school era; read blogs and memoirs and novels of adopted and fostered persons and birth parents. Read Regina Kunzel’s excellent book, Fallen Women Problem Girls. Read Rickie Solinger’s work about abortion, adoption, and reproductive justice. Until a writer understands the political, historical and social context of adoption during the time period of their story, they won’t really understand adoption and it might show in the way their story or characters are developed.

Q. As a reader of fiction, as a transracial adoptee, and also someone active in the political and social changes of adoption, do you believe it’s the author of fiction, or the reader, who carries the main responsibility to explore deeper realities in social issues?

A. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. The writer can write whatever s/he wants to write; the reader can interpret any way that they do. That’s the beauty of art. I am sure I’m more critical of stories involving Asian adoption because that’s my experience, because I have been involved in the Korean adult adoptee community for so long, because I’ve had limited but profound experiences working alongside Korean birth mothers, because I’ve professionally interacted with lots of adoptive parents, and because I’m a writer – so when Korean adoption or Chinese adoption is written in a story and they get all the smaller nuances wrong, it’s irritating. I might not pick up on those things if I didn’t have the community or the personal and professional experiences, etc.

Most writers don’t think of adoption as a social and political issue. They may not be aware for instance that every 2-3 years since 1999, there is an international conference of South Korean adopted persons where anywhere from 400-700 adult Korean adoptees from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and Asia attend; they may not know that Korean adoptees living in S. Korea have been grass-roots organizing to change adoption legislation in the country, working with single mom groups to reduce stigma for single parenting, etc. They may not know that the U.S. sends hundreds of children (the majority of them are black or bi-racial) OUT of the U.S. in intercountry adoption placements to adoptive parents in Canada, UK, Europe. They probably don’t know that intercountry adoptees are being deported because their adoptive parents never obtain their U.S. citizenship. What I’m getting to is that many writers still see adoption as “birth parent gave up/abandoned/lost child, child was adopted by infertile adoptive parents” narrative, and so the story lines follow the emotional effects of this narrative.

JaeRan Kim blogs at Harlowmonkey.typepad.com and jaerankim.wordpress.com.

Happy 2014 from PRISON BABY

All the cliches come to mind for my New Year’s wishes for everyone: gratitude, healing and hope, purpose and pleasure. But I’ll take cliches when they’re authentic in the heart. So that’s what I wish for our world.

prisonbabyjacket

In my corner of the world, my 2014 opened with one more step for  my memoir to reach hands of readers, an envelope from Beacon Press, the book jacket for Prison Baby, (March 4, 2014.) Here’s where my prison yarn toy meets the world.

As many copies of the book as I can get into prisons, especially for incarcerated mothers, and for girls in prison, even for prison staff, this is one of my 2014 dreams. I like to churn dreams into reality so I’ll keep posting here about my upcoming  prison tours and how you can walk with me as part of the dream of reaching our girls and women in prisons. I’ll ever grateful for all the support along the way for this book, for the prison work, for the vision of a better world. Thank you readers and supporters!

If you’d like to read some background on how Prison Baby found it’s way, here’s my new blog piece on Huffington Post.

Here’s a preview, the pile of drafts from 56 publisher rejections and 3 hard-working agents who exhausted their resources, before Beacon Press picked this up.PRISONBABYdrafts

Interview: Tish Cohen & The Search Angel

In the theme of adoption as it shows up in fiction, I’m continuing my interview series with authors whose novels touch the world of adoption.

TISH COHEN‘s The Search Angel  (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) releases in July 2013. She’s the bestselling author of both YA and adult novels, including The Truth About Delilah Blue, Inside Out Girl and Commonwealth Writers Prize finalist, Town House. The last two works have been optioned for film.

At what point in your novel process did you know you’d want one of your themes and character(s) touched by adoption?

With The Search Angel, I actually had fully formed characters in my head before I had a theme. My protagonist, Eleanor Sweet, went from being a suicidal librarian to the infertile owner of Boston’s finest baby store after a family member went through the process of looking for her birth parents. This person’s story was particularly poignant to me because what she learned about her birth family was not at all what she expected.

I then became obsessed with the entire adoption process and what each person involved might experience. Can the adopted child ever truly understand her birth mother’s choice? How does the birth mother cope with her choice years later, especially after having subsequent children? What about the adoptive parents—what fears and worries might they face?

As I went further along in my research, I became fascinated by search angels—individuals who dedicate much of their lives to reunite people with their birth families. Search angels have often given up a child of their own and help search when the state or province can no longer be of help. Typically, search angels work for free. That anyone could be so generous has touched my heart in a big way.

So while The Search Angel is about adoption, even more it is about the relationship between Eleanor Sweet and her search angel, Isabelle Santos, and about sometimes families take unexpected forms.

How does anything in your personal or professional life influence the use of adoption in your novel?

I’ve always been fascinated by relationships in which a person’s attachment bond has been severed at some point in childhood. A mother’s decision to give up her baby seems as big a choice as one can make. The lives of everyone involved would ripple with aftershocks from that day forward. I had to explore that.

Also, as I mentioned above, a close family member started the search for her own birth mother when her own child’s health required in-depth family history. What she found was not at all what she expected. There was joy, yes. But there was also a great deal of pain and a truth she never could have foreseen. It was almost as if she faced being given up a second time.

If you’re not touched by adoption in your immediate family, or even if you are, how much, if any, did you feel the need to research adoption?

Aside from the family member I mentioned above, I do have several close friends whose lives have been touched by adoption and all were generous enough to share their experiences. I also spoke to women who have given up infants and read every real-life adoption story I could find, whether in book form or on online adoption support forums. The very best part of my research was speaking to a search angel. Her insight shaped the entire book.

Why adoption? Why this as a life force in your novel and characters?

To give up your own child seems to me the most unselfish thing a parent can do. The decision would be exquisitely painful and complicated. All of my novels so far have featured at least one decision with lifelong effects and I don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

 

Interview: Randy Susan Meyers & The Comfort of Lies

I’m always interested in “outsider”  themes in fiction. Two authors I’ve met on Facebook weave the theme of adoption into their new novels, and since I’m adopted, this is a topic always of interest to me. I believe it’s important for those of us in the adoption world to support and encourage adoption topics in fiction and let the novelists’ character cast a new light on this.

Randy Susan Meyers, The Comfort of Lies (Feb 2013 Atria) and Tish Cohen, The Search Angel (July 2013 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd)  graciously agreed to interviews. I wanted to learn from each about their choices and process of integrating adoption into their characters lives, and I hope readers hold the same interest.

First up, Randy Susan Meyers. Next week, followed soon by Tish Cohen. Then to follow the week after, I asked JaeRan Kim, a child welfare specialist, researcher, and transracial Korean adoptee, to weigh in about adoption themes in fiction.

* * *

Randy Susan Meyers is the author of The Comfort of Lies (Feb 2013)
and The Murderer’s Daughters (January 2010) Meyers’ novels are informed by her work with families impacted by emotional and family violence.  The Massachusetts Book Awards chose her fiction as  “Must Read Book” and one of the “2011 Ten Best Works of Fiction.”

Q: At what point in your novel process did you know you’d want one of your themes and character(s) touched by adoption? Why adoption? Why this as a life force in your novel and character(s)?

A: Right from the beginning adoption was a theme in my book. The Comfort of Lies begins with Tia, a woman who fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption. Now, five years later she’s trying to connect with her lost daughter and Nathan.

I wanted to write the book from the point of view of everyone involved—as I find it fascinating how everyone’s reality is completely true to them. So the story evolved to include the wife of the married man, Juliette, who five years earlier considered her life ideal: she had a loving family, a solid marriage, and a thriving business. Then she discovered her husband’s affair. He’d promised he’d never stray again and she trusted him. But that was before she knew about the child.

Obsessed with finding out about the child, Juliette seeks the adoptive mother, and that is the third point of view in the book (the biological father became the fourth) Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Once I began living inside Caroline’s head, I became completely involved with questions of adoption, secrets and lies. People often ask where stories come from, and I’ve thought hard about what to say about writing The Comfort of Lies— a novel exploring premises like:

Falling hard for a man who isn’t yours.
Learning your husband has cheated.
Failing at work.
Thinking you’re failing at motherhood.
Unplanned pregnancy.
Giving up a child for adoption.
Struggling with being an adoptive mother.

I didn’t give up a baby for adoption nor adopt a child, but with every pregnancy scare, I wondered about choices I might make. Adoption? Failing at work? Infidelity? I struggled in ways that allowed The Comfort of Lies to come frighteningly alive in my mind. I haven’t suffered through all my characters’ crises but you don’t have to be buried alive to write about an avalanche–but it helps to have been stuck in an elevator.

All parenthood is complicated and begs honest examination. I had my first child at twenty-one. I barely remember being an adult when I wasn’t a parent. As I began reading memoir after memoir of about adoption—from every point of view—I began to feel how much of a complicating overlay it brings on an already layered life change. The Comfort of Lies asks if having children defines us, if that’s different for adoptive parents, and what does it mean for mothers and fathers whose give up their sons and daughters for adoption.

Caroline hates the routines of motherhood—does this make her an awful woman? Does the fact that she’s an adoptive mother make that feeling more muddled? Does anyone enjoy all moments of parenthood? Tia, who gave up her child, wonders if she can ever claim herself as a mother. Nathan learns about his child when she’s already five years old—can one conjure up instant love? Juliette feels a connection to the child, despite not having any claim or biological connection to her.

All these characters wrestle with questions of adoption. Everyone in The Comfort of Lies is forced to weigh the rights of a five-year-old girl versus their own desires. Collisions between the needs of children and the wishes of parents are sadly common. On whose side will the decision-making arrow fall? Should parents hold secrets from their children? If they do, is this ultimately for the comfort of the adult or the child—what price do we pay for hiding truth from our sons and daughters?

Q: How does anything in your personal or professional life influence the use of adoption in your novel? 

A: I worked for many years with children, as a director of a community center in Boston, and as a director of a summer camp and after school program. The children who touched me were from every spectrum of every definition of ‘family.’ From this, and from having family who was adopted, the topic was of great interest to me.

As an adult I found out (from my cousin) how much damage could be done by secretive attitudes towards adoption and biological parents and grandparents. I found the ways in which she was hurt to be heartbreaking. I had a cluster of her pain in my soul when I wrote about how all the characters were unwittingly hurting the child.

Q:  If you’re not touched by adoption in your immediate family, or even if you are, how much, if any, did you feel the need to research adoption?

Plenty! I read (as mentioned above) innumerable memoirs. (Maybe 20-30?) I find memoirs a fantastic source of immediacy and emotion when I am researching—and find that I can reach a broader spectrum than I could simply by speaking to a few individuals. I also spent days and days on websites, and contacted folks who had sites that touched me.  In addition, I read straight nonfiction research books.

Q: What question(s) do you wish I’d asked?

A:  “Was there a moment in the book where a character’s (and your) thoughts about open adoption solidified?”

As I wrote the book, I became, as I tend to do, each of my characters. Whatever point of view I wrote from—I inhabited that person. Caroline, the adoptive mother, loves her daughter and husband, but is increasingly sure she is failing at the role of wife and mother. During the course of the book she moves from a frozen acceptance of what she views as not deserving to feel the same ambivalence all mother’s feel (positive she should show only gratitude) to a gradual understanding that adoptive parents have a nuanced range of emotions. She finally allow herself to examine all sides of open adoption —and formulate a philosophy, where formerly she wouldn’t even allow herself to think about the topic.

All is Well

Around this time of year I remember my mother, who died on Thanksgiving right after we gathered as a family from around the country to sit together at the table with our parents. It’s not as grim as it sounds, to mourn someone on a holiday. Actually, it’s life affirming.

My last effort to ‘save’ her from the cancer that had diminished her to what looked like 60 lbs, diminished her fierce spirit and love for life, was to wave a spoonful of whipped cream near her mouth. She hadn’t eaten in days. “Stop it,” she whispered.

I love that she half-scolded me about trying to force something sweet into her. To this day, whipped cream is one of my favorite foods.

Now I know she was preparing for her death. Now I know that her physical body didn’t need nourishment for what she was about to accomplish in the next hour after dinner, her dying.

Around this time of year I honor everything I received from my mother’s mothering and in turn, passing on the best parts to my two daughters. It’s a privilege to thread this love through our generations.

The nourishment I receive every day from my family and friends, this I don’t need a holiday to feel grateful for because simple daily moments make for long-lasting gratitude. A note from my daughter, for example.

Last night after a late return home from an evening with friends, I discovered this note at the top of the stairs outside one of my daughter’s bedrooms. She reminded me about how nourishing it is, the power of vulnerability to open our hearts and say – I need…, I want..

This is what feeds me when I mourn my losses. Authentic vulnerability, and I admire it—in children, in friends who hold the courage to discover their vulnerable selves, even when I recognize it in myself. Surrounded by vulnerability and finding it in myself, this is when I know all is well.

* * *

One of my favorite poems about loss:

Death is Nothing at All

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

-Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral

In Spite of Everything

My children and I are tracking what’s happening as Hurricane Sandy storms towards the East coast where we have family and friends. All we can do from the other side of the country is hope. It’s not enough but it’s all we got.

Through me or from friends in their own kid world, my young girls have been personally touched by or known of destruction their whole long hardly-more-than-a-decade lives. War, murder, suicide, death & dementia, hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes, homeless un-or-underemployment — and somehow they still can giggle at some moment or another on the same day as any of these happen.

They still talk about the future as if it’s forever. Because when you’re twelve the future is forever. When you’re twelve, even seventeen, today is just enough and tomorrow is just another day even in the presence of danger, loss, fear, death. How kids do this, giggle sometimes in the same day as fear, loss, death — we need it. We need our children to scatter their neurons around the world, sprinkle our universe with their bounce.

To Create Ritual

Social rituals fascinate me, and I’ve learned a lot about their history as I prepare tutu materials for an upcoming workshop with incarcerated mothers and their daughters.

Rituals have been a featured part of culture for tens of thousands of years, dating back to Paleolithic times with their burial rituals. Even in today’s culture, jury trials, executions, academic conferences, all rituals filled with symbolic acts set by regulations and tradition.

Malawi initiation ritual

We live with ritualistic rites of passage every day: confirmation, B’nai Mitzvahs, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, presidential inaugurations, coronations, marriages, funerals, sports events. Even everyday actions like shaking hands or bowing in some cultures serve as ritual greetings.

Tutus Go to Prison

Which brings me to my prison work and its latest incarnation  — a tutu-making workshop with incarcerated women and their daughters where they’re allowed to visit.

My preparation began to feel ritualistic, partly because of the various prison requirements I’m required to follow. Each prison in each state differs in regulation for what goes in and what comes out with me. Sometimes I can’t bring in a single piece of paper and am allowed just the clothes on my back and even those need to follow regulations so the colors I wear won’t match inmate jumpsuit colors.

Preparing for the tutu workshops has delivered tactical challenges. In order of appearance over the months it’s taken for me to prepare:

First, it’s one big math problem: How many yards of tulle and ribbon to purchase for X number of girls and their mothers? And how many yards of what colors, and which neon colors go with what base color?

Then, not the smallest of challenges, how to finance it all since I’m not a prison-sponsored budget line item. Gratitude for all who’ve donated in many ways to assist and support.

Next, how do I prepare all the materials so no scissors or glue will be used in prison? Then how to kit them, and package and ship these masses of tulle and ribbon so they not only arrive with me, but also pass security as I enter the prison.

My answer, at least for this time: Tutu Pods. I’ve done my math, although I almost blew it in the middle of preparing the material because I tossed my worksheet where I figured out how many yards per mother-daughter pair.

So in the middle of it all I hauled in one of my daughters to help me think it through. We rigged out a new approach, added new colors, and no one will know but us how I almost drowned in stress because I thought I’d run out of colors.

I envisioned myself inside, handing out these kits and at the last moment, one last girl empty handed because I didn’t bring enough. But I’ve had to stop worrying about what won’t work and focus on what will go right.

Now it’s down to the wire. The Tutu Pods are almost finished, final touches ready for my travels next week to the Baltimore prison, all part of a tutu workshop which I’ll incorporate into my speaking engagement, which now I’m calling UNTITLED.

Thanks to my friend Barbara, I stopped trying to figure out what to call my speaking engagements. Although I am searching for a subtitle.  UNTITLED: something something. But I’m too busy with tutus and speech writing to figure this out now. My friend also reminded me how sewing circles are part of women’s history as our way to share stories and bond. Also a ritual.

Next for strategic tutu planning, I’ve had to flow with the multiple regulation changes, from, “Yes, the mothers can keep the tutus they make in their cells,” to “No, not an option,” to “Yes,” and back to, “No.” I get it, long strands of ribbon and tulle aren’t allowed.

As much as I want the mother-daughter pairs to each keep a tutu after they separate, I accept I don’t make the rules. My energy is used best other than resisting what I know I can’t change.

Unlocking a Ritual

I’ve spent weeks wondering how the mothers can keep a symbol of their shared time. What beyond their memories can they take back to their cells?

Then something struck me as I finished hot gluing the last pansy on a polka dot ribbon waistband before I kit the dozens of Tutu Pods, which I won’t seal because I expect each one of them will be searched and disassembled.

If the women can’t take any part of a tutu with them to their living quarters, what can they have? A moment. No one can withhold a memory, a moment. But what moment can they experience which will pass every security measure?

Why not create a ritual around a moment? But what? I’d need it simple, prison-approved, and easy to transport across country.

Why not flowers, each mother and her daughter with an individual silk pansy? Also my favorite flower — especially the real kind in dirt. But I use silk for this project.

Why can’t the mother-daughter pairs give each other a flower? So I snipped hundreds of silk pansy petals, a yellow-purple color set to match what the girls’ will assemble on the tutus they take home. They’ll each hand their mother a matching silk pansy.

Then I clipped solid purple pansy petals so the mothers can pass their daughters a separate color all their own.

Before I leave for this trip, I’ll look up the symbolic meaning of the colors purple and yellow and also learn more about the symbolism of flowers, so I can share this in the workshop. For sure flowers mean growth, the promise of a blossom. Just as these girls and their mothers hold the same promise.


A Private Moment of Freedom

Somehow I’ll make this all a ritual to serve as a bridge and bond between the mothers and daughters, although I don’t know the full details yet because it’s in process.

Like every time I’m in a prison, my work floats in limbo until the moment I’m inside with the women and I try to sense their needs. With any audience, I do my best to tune into them, not just myself.

I do my own style of improv in prisons because I never know what a shift captain will allow for what I carry, wear, how close I get to the women, shake hands or hug or not. It’s not my house, not my rules. But when I’m inside I’m at home because at one time prison was just that for me, safe and secure – home.

If all goes as planned, my pansy ritual will help bond the mothers and daughters long after they separate. If the mothers can’t keep the pansies in their cells, then in their memory and hearts they can hold the moment they received these petals from their girls.

We’re free to hold our memory, our moments. And when I get home from it all, I’m going to ground myself with a walk around the pansy gardens in the Arboretum and treasure the privilege I’ve been given to build creative moments of hope, learning, and love where least expected.

 

P.S. Next in the line-up of what to solve: how do I transport these? Too late to ship and too late to cost out which shipping method. The airline will charge for a large ship-on suitcase or box, not for weight but because of size. I may pack this all in a giant duffle bag. Stayed tuned for the results.

* * *

I’m curious to learn what, if any, rituals you hold for yourself. A few of my simple daily rituals: I brew tea in the morning. I also sit down to every dinner with my family. I don’t call these habits because they’re conscious acts to enhance my life.
Do we need rituals at all? Did you grow up with any which you discarded as soon as you could in your adult life? What ones have you created for yourself?

The Doll Shoe and the Straight Edge Razor

This solo plastic miniature doll shoe, so darling it makes me want to hug it all day, turned up today in a box where I dug around for some files.

Somehow saved from one of my childhood dolls which I never played with, I never consciously kept the shoe. It just keeps showing up. I’ve no idea what happened to the doll.

One inch long, the lonely plastic shoe survived moves to several countries and through numerous states and cities. I used to be nomadic. Apparently nomadic with a single doll shoe.

At the same time my heart breaks today. I heard about … Continue reading

Where Dreams and Love Usually Die… But Not Always

Before I ever knew any of my work would be published, before I ever spoke in front of an audience, before I un-muted myself and ever spoke much at all, I dreamed about—not a glamorous author event—but of a book launch inside a prison.

I was thirteen or something, scribbling typical teen girl poems and imitating e.e. cumings.

A girl who couldn’t stand up in third grade class to read out loud, I wanted to stand inside a prison and read my work. I didn’t do this with my first book because my mother was dying at the same time and it took everything in me to walk with her to her end. More like crawl.

I also didn’t know much about dreams then.

Through the giant generosity of friends, I’m being sponsored to launch Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus inside a a number of prisons, including Bedford Hills Prison for Women. Not the prison where I was born but the prison with the country’s oldest nursery for babies.

It’s a privilege to stand before the women I meet in prison and  spread love and dreams where dreams and love usually die.

As soon as I can, I’ll share the details. In the meantime please dream with me. For your dreams and mine.

I’m going here in one of my dreams, inside every U.S. prison to reach our 150,000 incarcerated women.

 

Places I Write

Here’s where I write. Where do you do it?

I write outside the gates of the women’s prison in the Appalachia Mountains.

I write in the driver’s seat of my rented Ford Fusion in the prison parking lot and I can’t crank the key, not yet, still traumatized by my first return to my first home.

I write behind my eyelids  while prison guards search me everywhere.

I write for my freedom in the Super 8 down the hill from another prison, another state, more states, thousands locked up.

I write off the sweat of my heritage, all those I never met but their scent, their labor,
their losses, their love seeps into and out of me, salty drops on my forehead.

I write under a blood-red moon, its beam carved into the edge of my soul.

I write suspended in air, a trance at dawn in a dream sheet of velvet like a magic carpet until the pad of little girls’ feet on kitchen tile downstairs draws me out because
they’re hungry.

I write for them, my daughters’ future, their femaleness, for their voices to rise unlocked.