On The Practice of Space and Connection

This morning, I woke to find an e-mail from the wife of one of my cousins – one of my favorite people.  This gal is known throughout the family as warm, sunny, loving, caring, funny.  We all look forward to seeing her.  A devoted and generous daughter, wife, and mother, and now a beautifully graced grandmother.  She manages to do all this without any grey hair or wrinkles, mind you.  She remembers dates and connections and keeps the family together through her gestures and thoughts – everyone adores her, as do I, though I hardly tell her enough.  We are lucky to have her and the deliciousness she is to our family.

Her note was a forward about two art-making projects:  the Solstice to Equinox:  Out of the Darkness into the Light and the 2019 100DayProject.  You can read about both, here.  This lovely gal and I had spoken about the 100Day Project last year (or was that earlier this year…?)  But while very inspired to participate in the project, my motivation was nowhere to be found.  This is nothing new.  Inktober 2017 – I managed to draw/create for a total of three days before daily home life got in the way and I “forgot” I was supposed to be drawing every day for the month.  Earlier this year, when the 100DayProject came around, I went out to my art space (aka The Shed) and drooled over my favorite mark-making supplies and tools, daydreaming about arting for a luxurious 100 days and how great it would be.  I’d be transformed, feel accomplishment, be in touch with my creativity and experience a sense of deep inner peace I’ve not felt in a while.  Plus, a project commitment might result in the bones of a show or a series of new work.

Instead, none of this happened…except for those three days of sketching/drawing back in Inktober 2017, and in May of this year, I did Avenue Q (which was a hoot and nourished a portion of my creative bones).  That’s it.  (Performing art is a different creative process than visual art, at least for me.)  In June, the fresh tenacity and confidence high from the show easing, I received a promotion at work.  Not a great time to make art.  As much gratitude as I have for the betterment and support of my position, I started smack in the middle of the crazybusy season (which only ended about three weeks ago) and jumped into a roiling, disorganized mess left by my predecessor.  The first month was no less than 70-hour weeks, if not more, and there was little-to-no training.  Baptism by total engulfment.  No time for art – or writing, or carrying a camera or getting involved in another show.  I relish the promotion.  I miss art with a clear and present ache.

Now, the weekly promise of days-off looms large; at work, in my head art intentions are strong, ideas rampant.  Once home and free, motivation and follow-through are uncomfortably stalled at a big fat meh

meh

a big fat meh personified (not my art)

 

We have a sizable shed.  It came with the house.  It’s not heated nor insulated and the mowers are in there with yard tools, patio furniture, and the tubs of Halloween/Christmas stuff.  The shed is not dedicated to art.  But, when we moved here I was VERY – super, over the top, elated- enthusiastic about the space and gleefully set-up my art space in a large corner of the corrugated tin garage with thick plywood flooring.  It felt good.  Cleared cobwebs, played music, lit candles, began painting the door.  Up went shelves, unpacked books and paints, glue, tools, ephemera, found a new work table – all the special magic stuff – arranged to my liking, inviting me to come play.  It felt really nice! and right and exciting to have a creative home, again.  In two years I’ve been in that space four times of any length, maybe.  That’s it.  This morning’s e-mail makes me want to art – daily, for three months or a season – and yet, the bubbling enthusiasm is followed by, “Why bother? You don’t have the time. Other things are more important and more practical. ”  Surely this is not uncommon self-defeating innerspeak.

While I understand a creative pause maybe be a necessary aspect of learning a new job and adjusting accordingly, part of my self is regularly neglected or denied and the more I realize that, the more it bothers me.

A lot.

So, on my last day off, I decided to see if how I’ve been feeling could be fixed.

I went out to the shed.
Just to be in the space because I miss it.  When I’m not there for a while then return, it’s much like seeing an old flame after years pass.  Bittersweet, awkward, unsure where you stand, maybe a cool welcome.  With any luck, things eventually feel comfortable, warm, safe.  Looking around, refamiliarizing myself, seeing projects-in-progress it started to feel good being in there; why do I stay away from art or the space I made for myself?  Mid-overthinking, I turned to find mouse droppings, albeit dried and old, on some of the shelves and work table…to add insult, my books and sketchbooks have begun to lightly mold. This made me sad…sadder as the evening went on, much to my surprise, because the bright side usually pops up and I’m fine.  But not yet, even a couple days later.   
Not sure why, but I know enough that resentment could be around the corner and that’s not good.  When my partner arrived home from work, he immediately asked what was wrong, so I told him.  This is tricky to do without making him feel he should fix or repair what’s wrong.  I said that I would figure it out.  He suggested making the guest room the art space (but it’s already a guest room, and the size wouldn’t work).  The shed is probably original to the house, 1973 or so, and it’s in good shape for a shed.  It feels impractical to insulate or heat it when its primary and original function is to house tools and machinery – which it does nicely.  So, in the meantime, I will move the ‘perishable’ items – books, papers, paints and glues that will freeze (they did last winter, requiring much shaking and re-mixing in spring) – into a doored bookshelf in the den that can hide them until a solution manifests.
It’s stupid, really…what bugged me the most was how much the mouse droppings and mold made my happy sink.  The next day, still feeling tarred and gooey with disappointment, an epiphany:  the period of time I made the most art, experienced the most satisfying production and visually creative period of my adultness was when Wasband was ill.  That was almost 20 years ago.
We were still fairly newly-wedded, DD (darling daughter) was between one and two.  After days of being on-call for my family and working part-time, baby to bed, man comfortable enough to sleep, I would leave the house, drive three minutes to the basement space of a small retail boutique and lose myself in art.  Eventually, I started refinishing furniture which led commissioned refinishing work.  It was art therapy in every way.  I sold all but one piece and took orders for work for a year.  I MADE it work for me by going to that basement because I had to:  I was being paid and had deadlines – and it was spiritually and mentally necessary for me to do so.  It got me through his cancer and treatments and setbacks and single-parenting-while-married and fending off my mother-in-law (who, well-intentioned, at one point, blamed me for not cooking enough hot meals and that is what caused cancer in her son…).  It was epic, my drive to create, to fix, to repair, to mend.  To heal.  Some nights I would be in that little basement space until 4 AM, and make it home in time to shower, put on the kettle for my husband then begin the baby’s day.  Fueled by so much crumbling and uncontrolled around us, I was compelled to make something new.
The bottom line is that I ran away from home and hid in that basement until I had to go back.  Every night for over a year.   I had an affair in that basement; an affair where the partners were my pain and expressing it; the heartbreaking sadness of a spouse fighting for his life and the awful fear of the unknown.
Since I am not running away from anything I am having a hard time finding a valid reason to leave home and run to my creative home, be it internal or out in the shed or another space where I can mark-make and put things together to create something new.  Now, I need permission to be apart from the house, the people in it, the coupled partnership, the bed, the space held for me so lovingly here.  I don’t want to leave but staying all the time is not balanced, at least not creatively.
That said, I will endeavor to engage in either the 100DayProject or the Solstice Project.
If you’re going to do so as well, please let me know and we can run away to art for a little while, every day.
DJD
You can find further information on the 100DayProject and the Solstice Project, by clicking HERE.
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Some of the Pieces: A timeline.

 

  • October 1963, born.  Immediately admitted into hospital; stay for three months until I am well enough to be relinquished.
  • January 15, 1964, relinquished.
  • January 1964, relocated to address Upper East Side, possible foster home.
  • March 1964, admitted back into hospital.
  • May 1964, out of hospital.  Relocated to foster home in New Hyde Park, Long Island, N. Y.
  • November 1964, adopted.
  • February 1985, move into my first apartment.  Begin searching by autumn.  Letter writing.
  • Spring 1994, join adoption Internet boards.  Begin posting what little details I have.
  • October 1995, marry.  Still searching.  Husband encourages and supports this effort.
  • Spring 1996, we visit Scarsdale address from hospital papers.  No neighbors recall the family.  The library has limited high school yearbooks.
  • April 1998, my child is born.  I hope to know and love my child for many decades; there is no guarantee I will find or even be welcomed by any birthfamily.  I choose my child and put the search on hold for two years.
  • Spring 2000, husband has cancer surgery.  Search as a distraction.  Read a lot about parenting while partner is critically ill.
  • Spring 2001, husband has second surgery for same cancer.  Search for cure for cancer, search for cure for nightmares and crumbling marriage.  Intermittently search for clues to my adoption.
  • August 2001, begin graduate school.  Plan is to become an art teacher (in case husband dies) so my schedule is somewhat in sync with our child’s.
  • Late spring 2002, leave marriage.  Search as goal.  Help others search since I am finding nothing but dead ends.
  • May 2003, walk commencement for graduate school.  Degree with honors.  Search to learn about what I’m supposed to be doing.
  • November 2003, separated, then, divorced.  Receive unsolicited email from professional searcher.  I decline her services; having compiled several notebooks of information all on my own.  Should I ever find anyone, I want to own that accomplishment.
  • January 2004, finish graduate school.  Receive second email from professional searcher.  This time, I reply that I have years of information but am missing a few links.  She offers me a very reduced rate to finish my search.  I sit on this decision for weeks.
  • February 2004, agree to have professional searcher do the last 10 feet of work.  She finds and contacts my birthmother.  Later that day, I screw up the courage and phone my birthmother.  We talk for a while.  During the conversation, my daughter, then five, wakes and comes into my room.  Birthmother learns she is a grandmother, though she is already a grandmother by one of her other children, one of the sons.  She tells me she has three other children, all of whom she kept, none of whom know she gave a baby up for adoption.  None of her kept children know about me.
  • August 2004, she decides to come visit and drives several hours to stay at my home.  We share a weekend together; she leaves daytime Sunday.  It was interesting, terrifying, emotional (in private), and nothing I had prepared for.

I should recall my first visit to where they all lived at the time, but I don’t.  I’m thinking it was cold.  My child, utterly thrilled to have more family, and I drove several hours to meet everyone – we stayed at a nearby B and B, a hotel was too expensive for my single parent wallet.  After that first all-family meet, my child and I returned to the Inn where I collapsed.  For an hour I sobbed wild heaving sobs, and gasped at marrow-deep pain so crippling there is no word for it other than murderous or hateful or abandonment left behind or unloved or unloveable or not good enough or trash or disposable or obligation.

I am a bad thing.  I did a bad thing.  I was not good enough to keep.  And, yet, here I am, still going and still pushing against someone else’s desire to have a life without me.

 

 

Wading.

New Dorp, Staten Island. 1986. My first apartment, the entire second floor of a small two-family house. Bedroom with alcove closet, full bath, large kitchen/dining area, sunny living room with small private terrace overlooking the neighborhood.  At $450 a month, it was a gem. I felt safe if a tad remote.  The commute was cool:  Walk two minutes to the above-ground subway; subway to Staten Island Ferry; ferry to lower Manhattan, walk up to Rector Street.  Roundtrip was less than $2 a day.  It was also not Brooklyn nor Manhattan, where my college classmates lived.  While they’d been busy taking acting and dance classes and auditioning, I’d landed a receptionist job at the quiet offices of Wagner Stott, a small but monied subsidiary of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith.

Good job for a girl, decent paycheck, no social life, only associates at work (most of whom were married men or young men honing their trading skills by day and drinking hard at night).  No bad habits and no hobbies.  Frankly, I was boring and I was bored…unlike the theater kids living in NYC who, once I got a telephone, dispatched regular invitations to late-night parties and celebrations of one casting or another.  Only once did I agree to attend a theater classmate’s party – and that is a crazy story of its own.

Weeks of thinking. Alone, in that first apartment, I had plenty of time to think about searching for my birthmother.  Plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons, to fantasize every outcome, including how much devastation searching would cause my adoptive parents, especially my mother.  But I lived alone, kept mostly to myself and knew how to keep a secret.

The woman who answered the phone at Spence-Chapin was friendly, professional, kind.  She suggested I write them a letter asking for non-identifying information – the only sort they were able provide – and include anything I might know about my b’mother.  I hung up and wrote the letter.  Several years’ prior, home from college on March break, I found papers in my mother’s jewelry drawer.  They’d always been there as long as I could remember, but I’d never been curious about unfolding them to see what they were.  The social worker who handled my birth information; some birth info from Lenox Hill Hospital; my real first name – Susan; I was a 14-hour delivery, normal, anemic and average weight and long, last name McKee.  My birthday was the same as it always was. Somewhere in those Mimeographed papers, it noted my birthmother had been single, in college, an only child, Caucasian, last known address was Scarsdale.  It wasn’t much but I added it to the letter.

Three weeks later, I received non-ID information and while it was exciting , it was lackluster and somewhat mysterious – but it was detail I didn’t have previously so it mattered.  There was so much to ask.  So much I did not know.  Two typed pages.

I still have that letter from Spence-Chapin.  A few weeks later, I made an appointment to meet with a staff member to see what more I might learn…

…to be continued…

Opening Lines.

These are the things she told me from a very early age. They are, in no particular order, the foundations of how, when and why I arrived. (You’ll note I was never born in any of these well-meaning bon mots.) Whether true at the time they were shared matters not; it’s what was told to me so it is what I believed. The majority of what is written below was said by my adoptive mother. It is a lifetime of rules, a How-To be Adopted. I do believe she meant most of these to be loving and comforting. Toward the bottom of the list, I am in high school, then adulthood. The tone changes.

  • We chose you.
  • I took one look at you – you screamed, I screamed – I decided you were mine.
  • You had red hair like my side of the family so you fit right in.
  • People used to ask my cousin’s daughter if you were hers.
  • The doctor told us we couldn’t make a baby/have a child.
  • Everyone loved you right from the start.
  • You were such a good baby, we could pass you from one person to another.
  • You were very compliant and quiet.
  • Your mother couldn’t keep you.
  • We had a nice party the day we brought you home. You wore a beautiful outfit from Bonwit’s.
  • We got you and then we had your sister. I thought I had the flu but I was pregnant – imagine my surprise!
  • To a woman in the grocery store asking about me and my sister in the cart: “Why yes, they are both mine: This one we adopted and the blonde is my real daughter.” [This happened too many times to count.]
  • Your mother thought she made the best choice. She was probably young.
  • Your mother loved you very much. She was a ballerina, your father was going to be a doctor.
  • Let’s not talk about your mother. She didn’t want you, but we did and you’re here now.
  • No, she is not coming for you. Why would she? She didn’t want you in the first place.
  • We do have baby pictures of you – you’re about 15 months old. That’s pretty close to a baby, see…?
  • You were such a good baby. We took you everywhere.
  • Not all family has to look the same.
  • I have no idea where she went.
  • Where did you learn how to do that? That certainly didn’t come from me.
  • I have no idea where she is; she might be dead at this point.
  • She left you at the hospital and never came back. Aren’t you glad we found you?
  • I have no idea what her name was. She was very young.
  • Why can’t you be quiet? Why can’t you be satisfied with this?
  • I have no idea where you were; we adopted you at 13 months. You’re lucky you didn’t sit around too much longer.
  • I have no idea if you have other family. It would be impossible to find people, now.
  • We don’t know anything about those people.
  • You’re always so disheveled and unkempt looking. Don’t you care about your appearance? You stick out like a sore thumb…such an embarrassment. [My curly hair was often unruly. Several times in my childhood, she had it smoothed or simply cut off to make it easier for her.]
  • You’re not allowed to get sick.
  • Why can’t you be more like your sister?
  • She was a bitch and probably a whore – why can’t you let that go?
  • I have no idea where your talent comes from – maybe Dad, certainly not me or my side of the family.
  • Why do you have to color outside the lines? Why do you have to always get yourself into trouble?
  • You need too much attention. Can’t you be like other children?
  • You are one of the most creative people – why can’t you do something with that? It’s too bad you can’t get your act together, you might be successful at something.
  • Aren’t I good enough for you? Am I that awful a mother that you feel the need to go find something better? I have been an awful mother. [This last comment was made on my 30th birthday. She had invited me over to their house and, believing she was giving me some sort of birthday gift, I drove the 10-minute drive in my PJs. She literally threw papers relating to my adoption in my face and told me to leave and never come back, she was done with me and I was never going to happy with her, that I was a terrible person for thinking there was a better mother out there.]

Revisiting these moments, I am in the kitchen in our childhood home, in the den, in the foyer, upper bedroom hall, market or dry cleaners…she was relentless in reminding me that I was chosen but that I had to work very hard to fit in and not bring any shame to being there.

As a young woman in the 1960’s, I cannot imagine anything more humiliating than not being able to fulfill society’s expectation that young women would marry a good man and make a family. She married a fine fellow but then could not conceive. So, adopting was second best. Most of my life I have remained a constant reminder of my adoptive mother’s failure to be perfect. Her inability to conceive was a damaging blow to her ego and to her self-concept that never healed. She turned 90 this week and I remain the disappointment, the booby prize.

The irony is that she conceived and delivered my sister, two years and ten months later. After that, she had no idea what to do with me, now that she finally had her own real baby.

The part where she begins to write about being adopted.

The last couple weeks, on the way to and from work, I’ve been soaking up a lot of Adoptees On podcasts; and, while I am a writer, the one topic I have neatly avoided is my adoption/search/reunion and that I decided reunion wasn’t what I thought.

Or, rather, I wasn’t sure what reunion was supposed to be.  So, after 11 years or thereabouts, not knowing how to be a reunited person (or knowing where or how I fit with that family) I wrote an email to my firstmom saying I thought we’d come to the end of our path, thanking her for having me, and that it had been nice to meet her other children.  In some circles, they might refer to my withdrawing as a “time out”, one of the stages of reunion.  What it felt like was that I just didn’t belong to or with them.  I’m not sure how to call “time in”, if I ever felt like I fit with them, without anyone in my birth family wondering about my sanity. The withdrawal October 2015; I found my firstmom in February 2004.

It’s a long story (aren’t they all?) but I wanted to begin by saying “Thank you” if you’re reading along.  There are a lot of these stories out here, about adoptees.  We are the lost, the found and those of us who float somewhere in between.

Christmas Coffee in Syosset, Lawn Guyland 2015

Gimme…
Yeah,…I want…
Umgonnahaf…
Lemmeget… .
Tell you what I want. Are ya’ listenin’??

Not a single please nor thank you.
Not. One.

And her daughter-in-puffy-jacket walked directly in front of me several times while carting coffee mugs to and fro, deciding a teacher gift. Not once did that 11- or 13-year-old child make eye contact or look around to see who else might be standing in line. Not once did she say, “excuse me” crossing in front of me, slicing the line back and forth, helping herself to whatever she needed. Not once did she think a moment about courtesy or personal space or etiquette.

And not once did her mother, watching the traipsing child, say a thing to her or make any behavior correction – for she was just as awful. Blowing around in entitlement and discourteous blabbering about price and discounts for more than one. Huffing and puffing having to wait, for godsake, online for freaking coffee, for chrissakes, with (and please excuse this – it is part of the entire observation and not finger-pointing or a smear) foreign car keys on a religious symbol keychain, a delicate and beautiful Hand of Fatima in the cleft of her throat.

My single, simple order (straight, black, in a cup) pulled me ahead at the pickup. Yet the daughter came crashing, literally, around the bend so forcefully as to careen into my left flank nearly knocking me off my feet, had I not been leaning on the counter.

No excuse me, no apology. Not a single acknowledgement. Just blustering on through. Her mother saw and said nothing.

I’ve never been to a crazy city like frenzied New Delhi or exotic Jaipur or mysterious Shanghai or scented and heady Ceylon. At this rate I may never have to venture off Long Island to be greeted with temperaments and customs so foreign to me, I feel on vacation at the coffee shop in Syosset. These women are white, local, tacky; not foreign or beautiful exotic “other” or anything other than just plain rude.

In the corner, an older couple haze and barked orders at their dervish grandchildren fetching (then dropping) scads of straws and napkins, everywhere. Barking louder for the clean up and admonishments of not paying attention. Again, no boundaries. We hear everything private in this family. Grandpa “has to make” so they cannot stay.

I feel so bland, vanilla. So boring, so swaddled in my happiness and good upbringing, a culture of culture and etiquette, with my oil burner and cut lawn, private thoughts and polite smile at behaviors I cannot fathom. Maybe a little wildlife is good? Not this sort, not the unruly and illmannered beasts of the suburbs. They’ll never take away my manners, no matter how deriguer you find them, and if my child ever is rude, you’ll let me know.

djd2015

The I Ching and Me. 22 October, 2018

Funny thing.

Many years ago, I went to see a clairaudient at the behest of a friend.  I’d been seeing, very casually and infrequently, a guy I’d met in high school (a couple years ahead of me in school).  As much as we got along, he had little clue exactly what to do with me or how to make it work between us, despite us getting along exceedingly well.  His surname name, old-world and sturdy.  To put himself through SUNY New Paltz, he learned tree maintenance.  This consisted of climbing damaged or dangerous trees with spiked-arches on his boot bottoms while carrying a heavy chainsaw, then cutting dangling limbs or taking the entire tree down altogether.  His surname matched his personality:  brave, strong, rugged in every sense;  as a personality, he was all those things plus kind, friendly and quite funny.  He was incredibly outgoing – boisterous, even – had a lot of friends – never had a “real” girlfriend that I know of – but was a favorite in his crowd.  Everybody loved this guy.  (They still do.)

Much to my confusion, I made him very nervous – which was quite clear – yet, he kept coming around and I kept accepting his date invitations.  Our dates were simple, always fun, never fancy nor expensive.  They were memorable, and thoughtful.  He fished for bluefish, so we had that for a meal he prepared.  He grew vegetables, and walked me through the side yard of his home telling about every seed, its growth life and what happened after the harvest.  He knew an Irish guy who happened to be a fairly well-known Irish poet, so we went into the city for a poetry reading (yes, a poetry reading) at a hip and artsy downtown New York bar decorated with all things KGB and Russian…for an Irish poet.  He was nothing but irony and incongruity – which happens to be a good combination for my too-busy brain.  (Thankfully, my current partner is very much like this, too; otherwise, I’d be bored to pieces and, likely, long gone by now.)

Anyway, the clairaudient recorded our session, there in her nearly all-white office with desk and two chairs.  She was plainly dressed and slim and young and naturally pretty, and I recall doubting her legitimacy based on all those things.  What was I expecting?  A gypsy with fringed shawl and bony fortune-telling fingers seated at a small round table, a hazy crystal ball between us?  Yeah, probably exactly that.  After she explained her connection process, she turned on the recorder and began my reading.

In a nutshell, here is what she said (and you will see why I am telling you all this, shortly):

“You are dating/seeing/being courted by a man who likes you very, very much but he is confused about you and has no idea what do to with you or how to integrate you into his life.  You feel good to him.  He is tall and sturdy, and can go deep – like a tree…he works with trees and his last name is a European-based name meaning “of the trees” or “from the trees or forest.”  He may be German…maybe Dutch or Belgian…he wants to help you trim your trees, help you with your trees…”

I sat there, utterly speechless.  His last name is, indeed, Dutch/Belgian.  It means someone who lives in a forest or is an occupational name for someone who worked in one.  Literally, “Of the forest.”

She continued about him for moment, telling me about the long  row of pin pine trees that lined my long driveway at the time, how he wanted to trim them (he did offer to do that), and how one day they would be taken down by a different man who had no intention of saving the land.  [This came true, by the way, shortly after I sold that home and land to a landscaper…who immediately felled every last one of those old pines after reassuring me he was going to take care of the trees.  Super Storm Sandy blew through the weekend this friend was to work on my trees; I put him off for safety sake, plus he had other jobs of greater import following the storm.  My trees never had any issue in storms.]

The clairaudient then told me I had “a massive, protective dragon – it’s orange with touches of purple – over my shoulder everywhere and anywhere” I go.  It is not a spirit animal but Spirit itself, in this form, she said.  She did not know its gender but somehow I never needed to ask.  So, the opening lines of a note from one of my staff, today, regarding the I Ching for my birthday (yesterday) – that included a powerful dragon and dragon energy – speak to me very loudly!

The strength and force of Dragons
Inspiration in its primal presence
Portends Great Success

So, too, does the part about beginning anew creatively.  I have a studio of supplies, a head full of ideas, and yet have not been able to get myself in there for anything more than tidying and touching my art supplies and books and wistfully saying “Hi” to the space, then leaving, no art made.

It feels like I am constantly missing a part of myself, despite carrying it around in me all the time.

As for my forester friend, he remains one of the good guys.  I heard from him last several months ago, and social media tells me he may have, finally, found a woman strong and deep (and fun) enough to match him, nicely.  My dragon is still following me around, everywhere.