Book: Palimpsest: Documents from A Korean Adoption by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom

Palimpsest: Documents from A Korean Adoption
by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom
published by Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, Canada
2019

This is a beautiful, non-fiction graphic novel about an adopted Swede of Korean origin, her life experience as an adopted person, and the corruption and bureaucracy of the international adoption industry.

Drawn & Quarterly is a great publisher, and the excerpt of this book at their website drew me in. The story is charmingly illustrated, but the subject matter is serious. Who gets to decide what the narrative of adoption is? For international adoptions, why is the story always that heroic white people saved a child from their terrible relatives and/or homeland? Why are so many children who are not actually orphaned adopted out of their families and culture?

The narrator looks into her own family history, and it takes years of effort and abundant support from her friends and family to dig through layers of lies – constant lies, omissions, and half-truths – to learn the circumstances of her birth. She illustrates and narrates her experience wonderfully, and makes an excellent advocate for adoptees.

I had to double-check my understanding of the word palimpsest: it is a document that has been erased and written over, and so may have different layers of meaning. It’s a strange Greco-Latin word, and a fitting one for the identity layers adopted people experience.

~~~

I’ve had friends who have been adopted, and a colleague who made an international adoption. My adopted friends shared their perspectives about their adoptions with me, how they processed revelations about their origins, and their desires to eventually meet their genetic relatives. (They did!) Their views were the opposite of the adoptive parent colleague, who baselessly villainized his child’s anonymous birth mother to a degree that shocked me, but which fit into his desired heroic narrative. So much of what Ms. Sjöblom wrote made sense to me because of what my friends had shared, but her story should appeal to anyone who wants to know who they are and feel that they “belong.”

Life: Actively trying to be inactive

My mother apologized a few years back for keeping me so BUSY in childhood. Her mother did it to her, and while her family was Catholic, it still felt like a “Protestant Work Ethic” problem: busy people of all ages with no time to think will be docile and have no time to sin! Business = godliness!

Being “busy” to the point of not really having a life is a difficult habit to break, and so there are self-help articles about how other cultures do it. Wrapping the idea of rest or passivity in labels and costumes from another culture feels hip and exotic.

My favorite versions of these are my various Zen Buddhist books, which encourage us to sit, breathe, and observe our thoughts. (I have a list of friends who confide that they MUST NOT, under any circumstances, be alone with their thoughts, and I honestly worry for them.)

The Dutch are hip and have a word/concept for what we in California might call “chilling,” about being in and aware of your surroundings without multitasking, which is a nice reminder that such things are possible.

Perspective | The Dutch have a name for doing nothing. It’s called niksen, and we need more of it.

Last year, I quit a terrible job in corporate middle management. I was stressed all the time, traveling once or twice a month, occasionally internationally, and work followed me everywhere: from the first email in the morning, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., until the last texts late into the evening.

~~~

My holiday time off – several consecutive days in a row! – is jarring, since I’ve been doing metaphorical firefighting for so long that moments of calm almost make me uncomfortable.

As a creative person, I need this time to unwind and think my own thoughts, yet can still feel like I need to be “busy” with work that OTHERS deem “productive,” and that will never get me anywhere I want to go.

It’s nice to be reminded that I can (with effort and practice) relax and appreciate being alive without judging myself harshly for doing so.

Life: Lights

I decorated today. For the solstice/Xmas holidays, I mean.

I’m usually visually understated about this time of year. I have simple tastes, leaning toward one or two colors (gold, red, green, white, OR silver) and some sparkling visual calm. This isn’t rebellion, but I’ve had loved ones who needed ALL THE XMAS THINGS all the time, which was too much for me. As in: if the soap in the bathroom wasn’t Xmas-themed, the world might end. I’ve swung HARD in the other direction.

A solid, pagan solstice/northern European-themed Christmas for me is: a really good, gluten free cake or pumpkin pie, a fresh-smelling wreath, cozy pajamas, feasting on favorite winter foods with loved ones and chatting most of the day away, curling up in front of a fireplace (or bank of candles), and some light entertainment.

This year, all the social elements of Xmas are unsafe, so I’m going a bit out of my range to do something cheerful with lights that is NOT monochromatic (gasp), cycles through MANY colors (gasp!), and is even visible outside.

I’m afraid I’ll get so used to them, I won’t want to take them down. 🙂

Life: Language Study (with Owls)

I made a cheerful little owl more excited.

Duolingo, the language study app/platform, showed me this cute graphic summarizing my progress this year. I study every day for a couple minutes, and I’ve been using it for about 550 days consecutively…

My eavesdropping in Spanish is getting better, and I made an actual (bad) joke to myself today (about podemos vs. perdemos) which is a good sign for me, though perhaps not for anyone near me.

My Spanish translation and/or guessing ability is improving, but my independent recall and sentence formation isn’t so great, so I’ll need to do some independent writing. I’ve only had spontaneous thoughts in grammatically proper Spanish a few times, whereas I have entire conversations in my head in German, so there’s a long way to go! The Spanish past tense has really bowled me over, perhaps because I hadn’t fully mastered conjugations for the present tense, and I haven’t recovered conceptually. (I ate, you ate, s/he ate, we ate, they ate IS SO MUCH EASIER than the Spanish versions of those: female: Yo comí, tú comiste, ella comió, nosotras comimos, ellas comieron; and then the same verbs for male, but different pronouns for those last three: Yo comí, tú comiste, él comió, nosotros comimos, ellos comieron. YES, German does something similar, but I’ve been practicing that for YEARS longer!)

On the days when I want to study, but can’t focus on Spanish, I return to German. I use German somewhat regularly, thanks to a friend and Postcrossing, so it feels like laziness. Or, less frequently, I switch to French, which I’ve still cumulatively spent more app time studying than Spanish. The issue with French is the random shared words: my trés bien could sabotage my muy bien. This is a really lucky problem to have!

It’s nice of Duo, the owl mascot of Duolingo (die Eule, le hibou, or el búho, depending), to encourage me with this certificate.

I still enthusiastically recommend Duolingo as a nice way to improve language familiarity as part of a bigger study plan suited to your personal learning/method needs.

Culture: 51st National Day of Mourning

Native Americans would appreciate it if the U.S. acknowledged that its national Thanksgiving myth is a myth; that Wampanoag generosity was rewarded with oppression; and that the Wampanoags are STILL fighting for their own land.

I’m sharing an article from Time of the current challenges the Wampanoags face – yes, they still aren’t properly recognized and need their land rights to be respected, which needs to be addressed (hello, Biden Administration) – plus a link to the livestream from the demonstration today.

Tribe Who Fed the Pilgrims Strives for Survival Amid New Epidemic

Many Wampanoag hoped that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing would be a galvanizing event to remind people that they still exist

Information about the National Day of Mourning and details around this event can be found on the page for the United American Indians of New England (UAINE.org). The livestream below has many intersectional values – hello, Palestine and Black Lives Matter! – but also ensures that Native Americans speak for themselves.

Even with the current list of obstacles, the speeches have encouraging solidarity for other groups around the world who have survived colonialism, and emphasis on a need to save the planet and ensure climate justice. The video is 5 hours long, but it includes real time video scenes from the march and other demonstrations – it isn’t all speeches. The pre-recorded portion of the program starts around 2:17, and it is a collection of remote testimonials and videos from many native cultures.

(Aside: one of the speakers from Puerto Rico sent greetings at the end of his speech in the Taíno language, which Wikipedia says is extinct … I recall reading that before, but Wikipedia’s page has a video of a speaker they say is speaking Taíno, and I’m more likely to believe someone speaking it than I am a Wikipedia article based on books from outsiders. While many Google search results insist that both the language and people are extinct, this article, “What became of the Taíno?” in the Smithsonian magazine takes a broader view, and allows people who self-identify as native speak. This touches on the topic of ‘who gets to decide what you are,’ which I think of often as a mixed-race person.)

Film: Anti-Nazi Music Documentary ‘White Riot’

Far-right racists were coming to power in Britain in the 1970s. When Clapton blurted out racist ideology, and punks seemed like they could go in a bad direction, a bunch of ordinary folks who gave a damn worked up an anti-racist punk zine, organized a network of multi-racial concerts, and functioned as the heart of a broad anti-racist movement.

This is a feel-good documentary, with stressful bits about the UK far right racists. It features performances from X-Ray Spex and the Clash!

Roxie Virtual Cinema: White Riot

Rock Against Racism was formed in 1976, prompted by Eric Clapton. It blends fresh interviews with archive footage to recreate a hostile environment of anti-immigrant hysteria and National Front marches.

There is always fussing within the arts community about artists contributing to mass movements, and whether or not it is effective to make art for a cause, and… it can work very well. Being a part of the solution doesn’t mean you and your group have to solve everything – movements aren’t all-or-nothing. Just being part of the solution moves things in a better direction.

I enjoyed this film, which… is still too topical, really. It is great to see examples of youth organizing of the past against all the usual villains.

Culture: National Novel Writing Month is nearly here

Someone made the mistake of saying they needed a hobby, and so I zealously promoted NaNoWriMo to them. Because: IT IS GREAT!

Do you want to write a first draft of a novel? In a month? As part of a socially-connected online community, with abundant daily encouragement? OF COURSE YOU DO!

NaNoWriMo

Yaaay, novel-writing!

I have four novellas from successful past NaNoWriMos, and while I’m trying to turn my attention to making photography books now, I’m still a zealot for sharing great experiences. Participating in, and successfully completing, a 50,000 word novel/la in a month is a GREAT experience!

It’s also surprising low pressure. When I was participating, the idea was that your first novel isn’t going to be your best, so let’s just get it done and out of the way without agonizing over it!

Also, 50,000 words divided over a 30 day month is just 1,667 words a day! You probably TEXT that (emoji aside)!

And the bragging rights! DO IT FOR THE BRAGGING RIGHTS!

I heartily recommend NaNoWriMo. Do it!

Words: Handmaid

There is some extremist judge being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court (again), and she’s in a spin-off religious sect that once bestowed the title of handmaid upon her. (AP)

This evoked the famous Margaret Atwood novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (en.wikipedia.org), and so there were some awkward news flurries about how HER faith group was NOT the inspiration for THAT story.

There was even a grumpy denial from the U.S. Senate Majority “Leader” (guardian.co.uk) in which he said, among other things, that the term was being used pejoratively, “because one liberal author put it in the title of an anti-religious novel in the 1980s…”

I’m in a religion, and I did not think the Handmaid’s Tale was anti-religious in any way… because I don’t naturally associate the oppression of women, including treating women as property, forcing women to conceive children with men not of their choosing, or restricting other basic human rights with religious values. You’d have to be part of a religion with a similarly oppressive belief system to see that horrifically dystopian novel as an insult to your— oh. OH.

Culture: Current Events Impacting Art

I’ve read of people watching movies that were made Before (this pandemic), who were uncomfortable with people standing close together. They’d said that crowd scenes and train stations and parties all seem so… weird, now that we are in our current situation. Dangerous. Cringe-inducing.

I’ve looked at advertisements for resorts that are updating their photos: instead of showing bars and pools with young models distributed around them, the spaces are empty. The sunshine-bathed lounge chairs are well spaced. The tables in the bars are at least ten feet apart. Spaciousness is suddenly the essence of luxury. The sanitation protocols of hotels are near the top of the list of amenities.

Designers are proposing conceptual projects to accommodate dining without sharing air, beach resorts with translucent walled spaces (and without mingling), and similar barrier-enforced-social-distancing scenarios…

The new reality is sinking in, and it is changing how we see things. It is changing advertising. It will soon change art.

I keep thinking of this interview with William Gibson:

William Gibson: ‘I was losing a sense of how weird the real world was’

In 2016, William Gibson was a third of the way through his new novel when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. “I woke up the day after that and I looked at the manuscript and the world in which the novel was set – a contemporary novel set in San Francisco – and I realised that that world no longer existed.

He had to start his novel over, because his near-future novel was no longer plausible – reality had shifted too strangely to sustain it. (The re-write turned out brilliantly – my review is one of the first posts on this blog.)

Meanwhile, I’m contemplating my own fiction, and am alarmed that some of my dystopian novellas are becoming plausible. My dystopias are pretty damned dystopian (I was hoping dystopic was a word). This is not a good thing.

I told someone that science fiction, even the grim sort, is innately optimistic. When they asked why, I told them that science fiction assumes humans have a future.

A human future is not guaranteed.

Book: Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A book that rightly earned great acclaim

Between The World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
published by One World (Penguin Random House)
2015

The best book I’ve experienced so far this year is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. This memoir, written as a message to his young son, is both a sensitive, insightful autobiography and a thoughtful dissection of the constructs of race within the United States.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of this work, read by the author. Coates is a very natural speaker/reader, and it was a pleasure to listen to him in this format. He is also an extremely gifted writer, and this book (especially in his voice) feels both brilliant and extremely personal. Like listening to a friend pour out his soul in a deeply meaningful and very penetrating way.

Coates shares his insights on his experience growing up in a tough neighborhood, on displays of fear, on how the racial dynamics of this country permeate parenting, daily life, physical presentation… On the extremely artificial construct of a “white” American identity, on the infrastructure that sustains a completely different reality for people who claim that identity… And on the crushing loss of police brutality, not only experienced by those who are arbitrarily murdered by the authorities on half-baked pretenses, but on the way those murders and the lack of justice that follows them scar entire communities.

This book manages to be thoroughly enjoyable while still touching on some of the most painful and tender topics in our current time. I gained some insights. I misted up. I felt shared joy over some of the author’s experiences. I appreciated the way Coates described his own personal growth in areas he hadn’t anticipated. The book feels remarkably contemporary at an up-to-this-second level, and I feel like my life is richer for having heard it from the author. I recommend it zealously.