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.


It’s Here!

There’s something very satisfying about opening a box fill with copies of your own book. It’s the culmination of many months of thinking and writing and worrying and revising. Now, here it is, a physical product ready to be sent out into the world.

It’s especially satisfying–and doubly scary–to also be the publisher of said book. Though if I can help it, I won’t choose to be on both sides of the process again. I’ll share more on that in a future post.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the achievement of having created something tangible out of sheer will.

An Adoptee Lexicon is now available for preorder. Get all the details here.

Book a Week: The Best American Short Stories of the Century

This week I’d like to talk about one story in a daunting book I’m in the process of working through, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison. I intend to read all 795 pages of stories and biographical notes, which obviously will take quite a long time. Today I’m up to page 158.

The story I read this morning was called “My Dead Brother Comes to America,” a fascinating title. It was originally published in The Windsor Quarterly in 1934, and was written by Alexander Godin. The piece tells the tale of a mother and her three children arriving in New York on a steamship, en route to reunite with their husband/father who had left the Ukraine for America eight years earlier. Through the eyes of the thirteen-year-old narrator, I was able to clearly see the emigrants aboard the ship, the nastiness of their accomodations, the indifference of the officials who examined them upon their arrival at Ellis Island. I was able to feel the despair that had brought them across the ocean, the emptiness of a young boy lost in a strange place and in a family that had been “broken into many shards.”

This is a truer tale than I have read in any history book.

What we know of Alexander Godin is that he was born in the Ukraine in 1909 and arrived in New York in 1922. We know he worked as a bottler in a chemical plant and that he wrote a novel called On the Threshold. We know nothing more, not even the year of his death (assuming he has passed), according to the biographical notes. Another source I found via Google claims “Alexander Godin” was a psyeudonym of a writer named Joseph Katz. In any case, we seem to have lost track of Godin himself though his story has survived for 78 years to be read by me, and will likely survive for many years to come due to its inclusion in this volume.

I wonder what Alexander Godin would think of this. I wonder if, when he set his story down on paper, he considered how he could relate the tale in a way that would be universal, that would carry meaning for a wide audience, that would ensure its longevity. I wonder if he considered how to turn the story of this one boy’s family turmoil into a social commentary about the larger issue of mass emigration to America. I wonder if he worried about whether his effort would be deemed true literature.

Or, did he simply aim to tell his story in the best way he could. I wonder…