Tag Archives: belonging

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.

 

The unPrison Project: Freedom on the Inside

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is my journey now, to walk out of silence and secrecy and use my voice. Not always easy for one like myself who spent many years silent, sometimes mute, and always with a secret held from the world: my prison birth, one of many secrets, many stigmas which I thought made me less than others.

Not anymore though. I’ve come to believe we create other prisons for ourselves and my story just happens to be one of extremes. I’m hard at work on writing my memoir so I can share my journey with you.

Fast forward a few years. I’m now Continue reading

The Mother Who Waited

The week of Thanksgiving, and I pause to recall the five days of solitude I took years ago at a retreat run by Franciscan nuns. I also joined them in their vow of silence for those days.

I committed myself to frequent silent retreats then, to write with more seriousness, by now relieved to end my long-lasting rebellion against my parents and their careers, both English professors and writers.

This particular retreat, in the dead of winter in Wisconsin woods, landed me in a one-room cabin heated by a wood stove. I’m a city girl and had to learn how to keep the wood dry and ready to stoke the fire. I loved the challenge, and rather than write that week, I meditated about my mother and our battle of a relationship.

This is the mother who endured a few decades of my rejection as I reminded her she wasn’t my “real” mother. This is the mother whom I plotted to gas to death, and also the woman whose face my fist grazed before it punctured sheet rock, my every bone shattered in my right hand.

This is the mother who stood by me no matter what, the mother who waited, as did my father, for me to come out the other side of hate, fury, and pain.

My parents adopted me around three or four from foster care. Before foster care I’d spent a year with my other mother in prison. When authorities removed me around age one, I unconsciously held out for over twenty-five years for my prison mother to “come get me,” held out without knowing it.

Fast forward through a disturbed childhood and a more troubled life as a teen and adult, a life of drugs, crime, and violence. When my mother was in her 70s and I was thirty-something, I finally “hired” her as my Mother. At last the girl my parents adopted, turned into their daughter.

This is the mother I never mention on-line. I don’t Tweet about her, or blog with stories about us (the way I do about my prison mother.) Not exactly a Facebook status update kind of woman.

At last I learned to release the past, to accept what I imagined for years would never happen — my return to live in prison with my other mother. At last I opened my heart to the woman who loved me day in and day out, even when, and probably especially when, I’d been estranged and absent for years.

Along with acceptance, gratitude replaced anger. Compassion and forgiveness healed our wounds. I learned the art of forgiving. I forgave my mothers, forgave myself.  The journey to achieve our redemption, my own and ours as a family, is the story of the memoir I’m working on.

For the two years up until this retreat, almost every weekend I flew to visit my mother, now in chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. I had to catch up for a lot of years. We’d sit and read magazines, watch TV, and nap together. I massaged her swollen feet, puffed from cancer now in her liver. We talked, something new for us.

I flew in on the Thanksgiving after my silent retreat in the Wisconsin woods and my mother sat, almost a pile of bones, in her wheelchair through the whole dinner. She scolded me when I tried to force feed her whipped cream. Some hours after I arrived that day, right after our family feast, my older brother wheeled her back to bed. She died in my hands, my father and brother on the other side of her hospital bed.

I’m grateful for our victory, the six or so years of our mother-daughterness. Without this, I’d be a different person, not a woman speaking in prisons, not a writer. Probably not a mother myself. She’s the woman who taught me to see humor even in the darkest of moments.

I’m convinced my mother waited until Thanksgiving, waited for my arrival, to die. Every Thanksgiving week I honor her, my mother’s stamina, her maternal endurance to wait for me for thirty years to accept her.

Sometimes attachment takes a long time. This is the woman I call Mother.

Mutt Meditation #17 and Quiz: Do You Need a Mother-Mutt…mentor, spiritual advisor, or life coach?

Read the full article here, on Huffington Post.

It’s all the rage now to reach out and touch, to find someone who can help you make sense out of life: a mentor, spiritual advisor, or life coach. Call it what you will, pretty much anyone you trust and has insights that you don’t have can fit into this category that I call Mother-Mutts. (These can be male or female.)

If you’re lucky like me, you’ll be surrounded by Mother-Mutts: those who like to step in and, well, get a little bossy. Let’s just name it. Never mind disguising their wisdom as advice, suggestions, or guidance. It’s bossy!

Here’s the weird part, especially for me. When they say jump, I jump. Usually.

That’s because I trust my instincts when someone knows A LOT more than I do. Even a little bit more. I wouldn’t be alive, out of prison, and happy-healthy-free if it weren’t for all the people who pitched in with their insights and said, “Hey, Deborah, have you considered…” or “You might want to think twice about that.” This last, I’ve heard a million times. Makes me want to smack ‘em upside the head, but they’re right. (Besides, I’d never do that.)

I highly recommend finding mentors, and don’t be afraid to listen. How are you going to learn anything if you don’t listen? You do want to learn, don’t you?

Take the Quiz on Huffington Post and find out if you need a Mother-Mutt …mentor, spiritual advisor, or life coach.

Welcome to the New World, China

There’s a color war going on in China.

It’s the kind of race battle we’re still trying to wrap our hands around in parts of the U.S. (consider the mixed race couple that was denied a marriage license in Louisiana…and that’s in 2009! Who forgot to tell that judge that we have a multiracial President?)

Lou Jing is Mandarin-speaking 20-year-old who competed in Shanghai’s version of American Idol. She’s the focus of a passionate public debate: what does it mean to be Chinese. And it’s all about the color of her skin. Lou Jing’s mother is Chinese, her father an African-American whom she’s never met.

For sure, it’s a controversy that boosts ratings. Wouldn’t Simon Cowell be all over  this?

China doesn’t easily accept mixed-race children as Chinese. When a child is born the  parents have to register the child as belonging to one of the fifty-six government-approved ethnic groups. There are no mixed-race categories. We have that same battle here in the U.S., only we have four groups: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic. Sometimes Native American and Pacific Islander are bunched in with Asian. There’s always the Other box – that’s me. You can read my brief bio here about what I used to write on race forms: 100-yard dash.

On rare occasion, a form lists Multiracial. We need that on EVERY form.

While the U.S. is just now rising out of its shame about race-crossing, what happened here to the Chinese pride about MADE IN CHINA?

Missing Link Found!

In May, with much media fanfare, a 95% complete fossil of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor, a lemur, was revealed to the world after two years of secret study by an international team of scientists. The scientists say that the fossil’s significant state of preservation gives an unprecedented glimpse into early human evolution.

Scientists are divided on the interpretation of this discovery. One approach to this is that this is no missing link, rather it is a twig on the uncertain number of missing branches in our tree of evolution.

tree of life

leaping_lemurLeaping lemurs! This discovery gave me cause to think deeper about our instinct to belong, to know our roots.

Heck, I’d be happy to just know one generation back, maybe even two. Not that I don’t identify with human race, but don’t we all like to know where we come from?

For most of my life, I lived with unknown genetics. That’s the case with many adopted people, or anyone else with a missing never-met parent, like a divorced parent they never knew. I eventually found the link to my birth mother’s side, but my birth father…who knows. Maybe I’m in the sponge category? I’ve soaked up pools and puddles of every color…and I like it.

I’ve come to believe that even when we know our genetics, it’s up to each of us to build our sense of identity and belonging.  No one else can do it for us, even if we are branded with an identity at birth, like race or gender. We still have to define how and where we belong in our worlds, what fits and what doesn’t fit.

Bella Abzug (1920-1988), the former U.S. Congresswoman and civil rights activist from the Bronx, made an insightful comment on why she wore hats, for which she was known. “I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.”

Thought for the day: Best said by Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player (1943-1993):: My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.

I’ll add to that — gender and any other category of identity, personal or professional.

What Time Is It?

It’s time to make that change, that change we know we need in how others perceive our mutt-ilicious race. When Mary J Blige sings in You Remind Me, “ The way you walk and the way you talk and the way you move and you remind me, yes you do,” well, part of our mutthood is that we remind others of so many others, and of no one, all at the same time. There’s rarely the “spitting image” comment for mutts like us.

Your features might be in the exact image of your mother…only thirty shades darker, or just as many tints lighter. Continue reading