Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)
Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3
We are as splinters, expelled from the body. The corpus surrounds us, englobes us, and drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again. Only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return to you as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized always greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place. None of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. But things have changed. Following my latest visit to what I understand now is a neighboring familial village, my story was revealed to me by my cousin Jamal. Two weeks ago we met with the father of my top DNA match, as well as a family friend who saw my BBC interview years ago. Like a frozen river come springtime, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds. And an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he says he trusts with such information, Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.
The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC) Conference will also be hosting a “Creative Writing Reading” session. I am happy and honored to report that my proposal here has also been accepted.
Reading proposal • My proposal includes excerpts from a work in progress tentatively entitled Foreign Body. It is based on two book proposals: one a non-fiction overview of adoption from a perspective of belonging, identity, and citizenship; the other a more personal memoir. Based on feedback from a literary agent I have embarked on a trajectory that aims to combine the two projects into one. The premise is a series of elocutionary samples, based in literary genres found in South- and Southwest Asia, in the work of modern writers such as Thomas Bernhard, as well as in the freeform radio presentations created by Joe Frank. These samples take as a basis examples of what I refer to as “writs of rupture”, ephemeral missives that yet maintain a power over lives, that embody dominant hegemonic modes, or else represent popular voice deemed invalid by these modes. For example, the small piece of paper that stated I was abandoned on the beach in Dbayeh; the poetry written down and then discarded by a Syrian migrant worker friend in Beirut, who would exclaim: “Who will read such verse, professor?”; the propaganda leaflets dropped from the sky during the July War of 2006, etc. The whole will be self-referential in the sense that it is not a chronological read, it is more an attempt to show the “full iceberg” that these notations barely make evident and manifest. Furthermore, it reveals an interconnectedness between those whose lives have been irrevocably altered by acts of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance.
Registration closes July 1. Hope to see you there in October!
The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture
The Adoption Initiative
The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC) Conference this year will feature sessions of The Adoption Initiative, which is usually a separate conference. I’ve been to both conferences in the past, have worked on the planning committee for the latter, and am greatly looking forward to this combined effort. The conference will take place in Oakland, October 18–20.
My proposal, “Resisting Extirpation: Revolutionary Adoption Activism” has been accepted as a paper presentation. The proposal follows:
Research Paper Proposal • Current adoption activism accedes to dominant liberal conceptions of economic and political value as ascribed to human life. By extension it concedes culturally specific concepts of family creation, kinship, identity, and citizenship. Adopters and adoptees, identifying with the class responsible for displacement and dispossession along a grand spectrum, construct adoption as separate from similar societal disinheritances. When examined through a lens of “social death”, adoption regains its role as a quite successful tool of social cleansing. It is only in admitting adoption’s agency in such practices that an effective resistance concerning survival and healing can be put into place.
Mary Jo Keiper Drennan: 1933–2017
There’s a story we tell in the family about our mom. One time, when she was living in Magdalena, hours away by car from the nearest cellular tower much less town or city, they were obliged to use a helicopter to take her to Albuquerque’s heart hospital. It was a tense situation, to be sure. The EMTs who were taking her to the airport, in an attempt at levity, told her they were Marines just back from a tour of duty, so they didn’t want any trouble from her. The two of them together easily weighed four times our mom’s weight.
Over the years I’ve been contacted by various journalists interested in writing about adoption and trafficking in Lebanon, and their usual starting point is a personal one: How has adoption affected the adoptee personally, and what might reunion mean for him or her? What follows is often intense discussion, focusing on the economic and political reality of such trafficking. Then, the compromise with editors as writers face the reality that they are simply providing a narrative—or a turn on a narrative—of the dominant mode of society. It’s rare to see full-on investigative journalistic endeavors that name names and reveal the reality most of us are aware of. This, however, should be the main goal, if you ask me.
The following is an excerpt from the painful yet quite compelling and necessary read, Lose Your Mother [link] by Saidiya Hartman.
As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started an artist’s residency at the Newark Print Shop. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign, which was successful.
Strolling around during a break in the interview process in early April
After detailing the grueling application schedule for universities in my last post, I’m happy to report that I have accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Illustration in the Faculty of Visual Art + Material Practice at Emily Carr University, Vancouver, Canada. It’s a bit bittersweet, after leaving Beirut, and now New Jersey just as I was re-establishing myself, but I’m looking forward to the adventure of a new place and most of all to be teaching once again.
An extremely kind message from a fellow adoptee the other day reminded me that I have not posted here since returning to New Jersey last June. “Re-entry” has been a bit more difficult than I imagined, and so here, almost a year later, I’m still living in my sister’s house, trying to get regrounded again, and this has taken up most of my energy this past almost-year.
Much of that time has been spent applying for university teaching positions. When I started complaining about this to a dear friend and former colleague who has both Columbia and Brown under her teaching belt, she replied: “I applied to 72 universities before finding my current job”. I promised her I’d wait until application #73 before getting depressed about my own situation, but my patience ran out long before that.
I was on my way to work in New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. I am grateful to the web site “The Sonic Memorial Project” for its archives on Radio Row, and would be interested in hearing from those of this community. Special thanks as well to CounterPunch who published this prose poem on their web site at the tenth anniversary of that date.
Over at Transracial Eyes [link], I posted a question concerning the way in which the world looks at us as adoptees, and how this radically changes with time. The basic point was that when we are children, and we are seen with an adult who is not of the same ethnicity or of similar physical resemblance, the mental calculation is pretty straightforward: “Adopted”. When we are older, however, this same calculation does not maintain, and other answers to the equation come to the fore, varying depending on the family member: “partner”, “caregiver”, “adulterer”, “kidnapper”. Many of these terms reflect the same racist and stereotypical categories applied to the minority populations in the country that we are perceived as being of.