The Words We Use: National Adoption Month 2018

Lexicon: the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject. (Merriam-Webster)

I wrote my book An Adoptee Lexicon, in which I discuss forty-five terms that are significant to me as an adopted person, because I want to have a conversation about the words we use surrounding adoption, especially those simple words we come into contact with on an everyday basis, those words that float right past non-adopted people but stop us dead in our tracks.

I began by compiling a long list of terms related in some way to adoption. Then, during each generative writing session, I picked a word from the list that held energy for me, set a timer for twenty minutes, and wrote longhand in a notebook nonstop until those minutes were used up. Later, after many weeks, I began fine-tuning what I’d roughly sketched out and adding the facts and statistics I wanted to include to augment my own thoughts. I didn’t write about every word on my original list, and I didn’t end up using every word I wrote during those generative sessions.

What I ended up with was part memoir, part poetry; a little bit history lesson and a little bit political commentary. The resulting book uses my own experience as a jumping-off point to consider the social policies that shaped adoption’s past and will influence its future. This interpretation of those words from my list that made it into the book is all mine, though not necessarily anyone else’s. That “an” in the title is deliberate and doing a lot of work for such a small, typically overlooked word: this is only one–not every–adoptee’s lexicon.

How do other adoptees react to the words I chose to explore? And what about all those words on my original long list that didn’t end up in the book? I’d like to invite adopted people to join me in conversation during November, which is National Adoption Month (NAM) (also referred to as National Adoption Awareness Month or NAAM) here in the U.S.

In the spirit of the brief bursts of writing I did to begin An Adoptee Lexicon, each morning in November I’ll post a word on my Twitter profile and Facebook page for adoptees to consider and respond to. You can follow along and participate using the hashtag #AdopteeLexicon. Please also tag your responses with your other favorite adoption- or NAM-related hashtags, and please do respond with video or images or songs or whatever creative thing you can imagine if the written word doesn’t move you. Please do take the conversation to your other favorite places on the internet as well, though I’ll probably stick to Twitter and Facebook myself. I hope that my daily posts will serve as your creative catalyst.

Let’s make this an adoptee-centric, judgment-free NAM conversation where all viewpoints are respected. And please, if you’re not adopted, just listen. There are other forums where non-adopted people can express their views on adoption. The #AdopteeLexicon conversation is intended for adoptees only.

 

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What’s It About?

Thanks for asking.

Lyrical and informative, An Adoptee Lexicon is a glossary of adoption terminology from the viewpoint of an adult adoptee.

Contemplating religion, politics, science, and human rights, Karen Pickell, who was born and adopted in the late 1960s, intersperses personal commentary and snippets from her own experience with history and statistics pertaining to child development and the adoption industry. The collection of micro essays is presented as an organically ordered glossary, along with a robust list of sources and suggested reading as well as an alphabetical index, creating layers of association between words commonly used when discussing adoption.

Pickell draws connections between contemporary American political issues and the social climate that led to a tsunami of adoptions in the decades following World War II through the early 1970s—a period known as the Baby Scoop Era—and also touches on the complexity of transracial and international adoptions.

Throughout An Adoptee Lexicon, the focus remains firmly on adopted people—their perceptions, their needs, and their right to fully exist in exactly the way non-adopted people do.

If you’ve been following me here, you’ll recall, too, that I’m publishing this book as the first project of my new micro press in order to test out the process. I’m looking forward to the conversations this book will begin and also to helping others’ words be heard in the very near future.

Update: An Adoptee Lexicon will be on sale October 18! Be sure to follow Raised Voice Press.

Practice

Those who have been following me here this year know that I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challengewhich means I’ve been *trying* to write one essay, no matter how small, every week during 2017. Alas, I have fallen behind, but I’m going to continue this practice regardless. The act of attempting to produce something worth sharing every week is helping me to get into a writing groove that I think is sustainable long term, even though there will be occasional breaks. That’s just life.

This practice is also inspiring me to share essays in places besides here on my personal blog. Today I’ve posted my essay #12, a distinctly adoptee observation, at Lost Daughters. I hope you’ll visit there to read.

I Told Myself I Would Be Real

I never felt known as a child. When people looked at me, I felt they saw the shell but nothing underneath. I became what people wanted to see when they looked at me; in this way, I created the shell of myself that no one could see beyond.

I hid inside the shell. Instinctively I protected my tender core, the real part of me that I felt was not known. I wanted to be known. But being known felt dangerous. Yet over time, not being known also hurt me. I felt intensely lonely. Alone in the world, as if no one could understand my language.

I believed that my real mother would understand me. This was the story I told myself: My real mother somewhere out in the world loved me, and one day she would find me. She would know me without my having to explain anything at all about myself. She would know the colors and flavors I liked, she would know why I needed to have long hair, she would know why walking barefoot outside was the best thing and why I couldn’t see the world the way the people I lived with did. She would just know.

I didn’t have to create a fiction for myself because I knew somewhere in the world there was a woman inside whom I had become real. It was just that we weren’t together. I told myself we would be, and then I would become real again. I didn’t come from thin air, I couldn’t have, because I couldn’t fly. I came from water, just as everyone did, and I would swim again.

I didn’t want to be this mystical creature inside my shell. I wanted to be normal. Normal seemed good to me then, desirable. Born of a body. How odd I must have seemed, without a solid form. Without matter. I wanted to matter.

I knew my mother was somewhere out in the world loving me because I could feel it. We had a bond that could not be broken. And if I was with her, she would care about the core of me, the real me that no one cared enough about to even miss. I would be important to her, I told myself over and over, and this story gave me hope, and hope kept me going all the way out into the real world.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #9 of 52.