When you need a little help from your (blog) friends

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With the abundance of “blogging schools” and the excellent WordPress advice available I was pretty sure I could spruce up my blog on my own.  I realized early on that I didn’t want numbers/stats for the sake of just having them, and that a comment, even a negative one, meant someone was reading, and that was what I wanted: to reach and feel connected to an audience. Not that the numbers aren’t nice!

A sister blogger once said she enjoyed the randomness of my blog. It is true that I tend to write about whatever I feel like writing about on any given day. One of my passions is adoption reform. I am currently working on a piece with a goal of finishing by January 2017, the proposed time-frame my personal adoption records will be unsealed, according to NJ State Governor Chris Christie. I’m not holding my breath, but keeping my eye on the ‘Gov.

I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to blog so much as write about adoption. (I will still be blogging about advances in brain health post surgery and of course, kittens).  I was bogged down in the blogosphere until I found FistBump Media. (Full disclosure: I met the founder when our paths crossed at a conference once, although the other few hundred attendees make the memory fuzzy for both of us).

Three things set FistBump apart from other programs out there:

  1. The information is presented in bite-sized pieces, and the assignments are manageable and leave time for writing. The folks at FistBump help focus on taking the next step. It’s easy to circle back and go over something once you get an overview of that particular lesson.
  2. The instruction is presented totally backwards from all other programs I have tried-at first I was confused by this but I immediately saw the value of taking the steps in the order they are presented. This is probably my key take-away-the concrete steps I could take in order to prevent getting bogged down so I could keep going.
  3. A program of this kind can only be as good as the leader. Here is where FistBump shines, an attentive team that provides support in a timely manner-complete with encouragement that does not appear to come from a robot. In Dan King you get a warm and willing coach/cheerleader, and that makes all the difference. A look at the videos will show you if the material is going to be right for you.

If you have any questions ask-ask me or contact Dan directly at:

FistBump Media

1988 Wood Hollow Way
Sarasota, FL 34235

941-780-4179

I tend to get overly excited about things-I’m pretty stoked about the introductory (one week) offer that is the equivalent of a couple of trips to Starbucks. I know a few of you personally who have been looking for a program like this-THIS IS IT.

Flashback! Or, why would you ever leave Florida? (Warning: Possible Triggering Language)

This was a happy day before all hell broke loose. It was around Halloween, as evidenced by my orange cup.

Always the attempt to look writerly and content.

He had a severely handicapped little girl, about seven; he said was the result of the Agent Orange from ‘Nam. I had no idea what any of that meant. I knew ‘Nam was ‘Nam as in Viet and I had a very literal idea what Agent Orange was from my childhood friend whose dad was some big shot at a company where one of the components was still manufactured. They kept the herbicide in the garage for emergency weed infestations and a couple of drops made gallons of the desired effect. We shot some of the stuff into a weed with a hypodermic needle to see how it worked. This was before the internet and kids did science experiments with deadly chemicals for fun.

He was a friend of a friend, and no doubt the brace on his foot had something to do with my offering help that day. Someone told him I was a writer and he had this elaborate camera that hung around his neck. It was confusing why someone would add the burden of the camera to their already precarious mobility-but I recognized an artist when I saw one. The photo I was using for my “author” picture was getting old so I said “yeah, what the hell. Take the picture.”

I never thought about something untoward happening because his miniature mute daughter was always with us. Until one day she wasn’t. He pulled up in his handicap equipped station wagon without her, which didn’t strike me as odd since he had joint custody and I just figured it was the wife’s turn to keep her out of danger.

He stepped out of the car with his good leg and dragged his braced leg behind him.
“I’m glad you’re dressed so nicely, today I’m going to take your picture.”

My faulty warning bell did not go off, but this compliment should have been ringy dingy number one.

Soon we were driving down the road in his wagon packed with photography equipment and on the seat between us, a small handgun. Seeing me see it, he stowed it in the glove compartment.

“I always want to be able to protect my companion. That makes up for my bum leg.”

Somehow this made perfect sense to me, and I was happy it was out of sight. Ringy dingy number two.

We arrived at the park where the third warning bell would go off if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on getting a photo for the back of my book jacket. It’s OK to laugh, I think it’s funny, too.

I helped set up the tripod and despite our previous friendly conversations there was something different going on, something I mistook for concentration and poetic license. He looked down into his camera and when he lifted his head back up, he had the gaze of a dog licking his lips in anticipation of a treat, a German Shepard-like anticipation dripping from his clenched jaw. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in a heavily wooded area with a man with a gun. This was before the day of cell phones and my head started pounding so hard I couldn’t hear myself think. I was trying to think of what to do when I heard him over my racing heartbeat suggesting I take drop a sleeve off one of my shoulders, “for the camera.”
**
The therapist had an office in the upstairs bedroom of his lovely home. Decorated in multiple shades of blue throughout, extra warmth provided by a fluffy little white dog that would eventually settle down into my lap after jumping around for a bit,  it was covered by my insurance.  I forget the guy’s name, and I had little respect for him when I found out he was working on his MSW. This, to me was like finding out my brain surgeon had previously, by way of experience, removed a few splinters from a child’s hand. He was getting his MSW and here I sat, owner of my own Diagnostic Manual, a gift from a friend. When you get a DSM-IV for your birthday aren’t you entitled to at least a psychiatrist? This was how my insurance worked, so…

I didn’t feel that I needed someone to talk to concerning the string of things to which professionals like to cling.

“Oh, you were adopted? When and how did you find out? Did you ever want to find your real parents?”
My real parents were George and Bernice and I resented mental health professionals insinuating that this was where my issues might be buried. I went to this particular guy for about a year, and the house noises made by the baby and things like the dishwasher that I never got used to. As unusual as the whole scene was, it was unbelievably pedestrian compared to the college counselor who took his consignees to Happy Hour after our sessions.

I escaped without physical harm or contact from the photo session in the woods, but it came up a couple of years later. I was spacing out, massaging the dog, when a tap on the desk snapped me to attention.

“Earth to Jaye.”

He didn’t raise his voice nor did it contain any sort of intonation at all, and you could tell this wasn’t only his  counselor’s voice, that “flat” would describe his everyday demeanor. I tuned in, my glance betraying my little space-out.

“What were you thinking about just there?”

Some stupid shit I did.

“Did you want to talk about the stupid shit?”

His use of my word startled me just slightly.

I kept a poker-face but the dog betrayed me.

My brain said “no” but my lips, often out of sync with the master cylinder, kept going.

I’ll tell you something stupid I did and you will tell me I was young, anyone could have done it, it was no biggie.

“I promise not to say any of those things, let’s have it.”

So on I went about the man in a leg brace with the Agent Orange daughter and the big camera.

**

In college I was on a first name basis with the handful of security guards, several who surveyed the campus round the clock. Almost everyone chose the school for it’s waterfront, if not the waterfront program specifically. I didn’t exactly choose it at all so much as it chose me. They gave me a handful of money and they had a kid playing French horn on the cover of the catalog. Let that sink in, young parents…I chose my college because there was a kid playing French horn on the cover of the catalog. There were other reasons, sure, but I wanted to continue with my band activities and without further due diligence I assumed French horn kid would be there to show me around the tiny campus.

In actuality, the world-famous organ program, with one of only three (at the time) Flentrop organs in the nation and an outstanding choral program were the only music programs the college offered. The music program was outstanding but in its infancy and there was no place for my Selmer clarinet and me.

If you sat about playing guitar into the night campus security waved at you. They were a friendly sort with implementation of the original ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy firmly in place. I had a friend explain it to me this way: the city has a deal with the school-they don’t police the campus and the school doesn’t depend on them to do so; if you do call them it better be goddamned serious because a single call would likely change this lax position and the city was aching to do it. This, explained to me by my friend that escaped being sprayed by Agent Orange by being a conscience objector and serving two years in a Veteran’s hospital.

I didn’t really believe all of this about the campus police but 36 years later I’m still reading a lot about apologetic swimmers and rape culture so I guess it is true now and it was true then.

Years later while therapist shopping I would recount the experiences both on the on the yellow plastic  couch and later, with the little fluffy dog in the blue room. I reluctantly talked about leg brace man but I couldn’t remember what happened to him. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was still reserved for military personnel but there was a suggestion that whatever ended up transpiring on that day was blocked out my memory due to trauma. I have never bought into this, but I’m pretty sure there’s some connection here: Around the same time as the Gulfport murder I stopped feeling safe sitting outdoors at various waterfront venues with my guitar. It was time to leave, but I didn’t know it yet.

 

2 Things-World Aids Day and Deanna Shrodes “Worthy To Be Found” Book Launch!

WOW!  Two things in one day! Scroll down for new content, but first, there’s this….

I wrote the following post several years ago, and I like to revisit it on December First-World AIDs Day. These days it’s all about PrEP, and a certain reminiscence, a romanticizing  of a time, that to me, was full of fear and sadness.

World Aids Day – December 1

(First published on Tumblr some years back).

michael h

Remembering Michael

We met in college, over the easy-listening jazz of Michael Franks. We had that immediate connection (I’m from Jersey, you from Jersey?) that you get when you are from NJ living in Florida. He had a girlfriend back home. I imagined I was keeping him out of trouble.  The second year into our friendship (‘78?) I was in the right place and the right time to facilitate a meeting between Michael and the guy that gave him his first restaurant job. He was always overly grateful for that, because it allowed him to stay in Florida. About 2 years went by before gradually his hair started getting blonder, he became more concerned with his appearance, Nancy stopped coming down to visit. It is easy to look back now and see that he was trying to come out to me, literally for years, but he was not really out and we were not ready to catch him.

In ’80 he got a job as a “coffee, soda, juice girl” at an Atlantic City casino.  We had a party to celebrate both the opening of this new casino and the new job. We ended up in a lounge that was not operational yet, just the two of us, when he told me he had something to tell me.  I was pretty sure he was going to tell me something about Nancy….

It wasn’t long after that, as if someone threw a switch, everyone was dancing, dressing up, doing poppers. Well, not everyone. I had two distinct circles of friends. On my 21st birthday I threw myself a party at St. Petersburg’s premier gay bar, a big fancy run down dance hall that we all loved. There were wall to wall guys, four lesbians and about 8 of my straight friends in attendance.  At first there were a handful of people who were irritated that straight people had invaded the bar, but it soon turned in to a big happy celebration. Me and my friend Sue went into the lady’s room and swapped dresses. I share this detail for my kids, who seem to like to hear about the “wild” stuff we did. We did this simply because we each liked the other’s dress better.

Fast forward and the first baby to be diagnosed with AIDS was on in the news. It was no longer a “gay man’s disease” but a “blood borne disease”. That’s what the history book will tell you but I was there, and believe me, it was a “gay man’s disease.”    I was pregnant with my first child when Michael told me he tested positive.  It was like someone telling you they had something stage 5. People heard this news and they didn’t expect you to live. I hear stories of people sitting around crying.  Michael and I didn’t cry. We were going to show this thing a thing or two about stamina and resistance!

Michael spent the next 3 decades being the reluctant poster boy for AZT and other anti-virals, often participating in trials. He was always warm to the touch, as in feverish.  The first time he visited me after his diagnoses he brought straws, because he thought I wouldn’t want to drink out of his glassware. I said “don’t be silly” and accepted the straw. We visited almost every year for many years then our visits became sparse, me, living back in Jersey, and Michael, staying where he had health insurance and a job.

I’m not good at conclusions.  I wanted to remember Michael on this day. I remember lots of folks that I met through Michael, some who are no longer with us. If you are reading this and thinking “man, I should get tested,” go to the nearest testing center. AIDS.GOV, enter your zip, there’s a map. My nearest testing center is also my local Planned Parenthood.

Last year, (several years ago, now) after spinal surgery (that he thought was in part due to carrying all those heavy trays of “coffee, soda, juice,”) Michael passed away.  I wanted to spend some time on World Aids day remembering him.

*************************************************************************************************************

IN TIME FOR HOLIDAY GIFT GIVING!

Worthy to Be Found Cover

I’ve been counting down with Deanna and today’s the day! Her book, Worthy To Be Found, is up on Amazon! If you are inclined to read one more adoption book (I know you might be weary after November’s national adoption month #FlipTheScript campaign) please consider buying this book today so the opening day sales skyrocket! This will ultimately get the book into the hands of more people, and the book’s healing message will also make a great Christmas gift!

Put down what you’re reading and find Jennifer Laucks (book) Found.

It's a big, big, (adopted) world.

It’s a big, big, (adopted) world.

Evoking Jurassic Park-level fear, while softly reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love, Jennifer Lauck’s memoir Found is a quick, and at times difficult read. I swore off of adoption memoirs for the summer. I had been reading them in a steady stream for 2 years, including the classics, the best sellers, the confessional, the kooky.

On the whole enjoyed the book. My buddy Luanne  who writes at Don’t We Look Alike and Writers Site recommended it and I immediately downloaded it; so much for swearing off memoirs for the summer. Addiction? I prefer to call it dedication.

I first encountered the concept that maybe historically closed and sealed adoption wasn’t always was the best thing through Deanna Shrodes excellent, heartfelt blog, Adoption Restoration.  Deanna is publishing the “book” part of her blog, meanwhile you  can read a bunch of her writing on her site.  Yes, faithful readers, this is the woman I called a nut, in print. It was akin to throwing a rock through a plate-glass window to get the owner’s attention., so  you get to say you’re sorry.

Three things stood out while reading Found:

This book is scary because she enables the reader to share her fear. Seldom do I find myself all scrunched up over a non-fiction book, but I did just that, turning the pages that wound down to reunion and ultimately, a type of rejection. There were a couple of pages where I could hardly breathe, so universal the emotions expressed, yet so distinctly singular to the author’s personal story.

The second thing that sets this book apart is the writer’s ability to cram so much emotion into one tiny book. I didn’t have heaving “Terms of Endearment” crying jags over it but it did touch me in a stony cold place where I usually don’t allow my “work reading” to go. Adoptees looking for a book to recommend to others will find something here to spark memory and conversation.

Finally, woven throughout the fairly linear story there were a few parts (when she talks about her therapy, and her relationship with one particular man) that I found to be preachy and assuming. But for the most part these moments are sparse and expert editing keeps the fast-moving narrative on track.

It is refreshing when a memoir is honest to a fault. Although her meditation journey is such an important part of the story, I found the amount of time and energy spent away from her family difficult to swallow, counterbalanced with her own feelings of abandonment. By including this in her story, she depicts herself as a flawed character, in other words, human. That is the best of what this book has to offer…it is utterly human.

 

You might like:

 

Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, An Anthology by Deanna Doss Shrodes, Corie Skolnick, Richard Hill and Rhonda Noonan (Jan 14, 2014)

 

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The Perpetual Child-Dismantling the Stereotype—Editors: Diane Rene Christian & Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston-another non-review of a book I liked!

One more anthology and promise I'll stop!

One more anthology and promise I’ll stop!

(But first, a little background and some words about another book): When it first came out, I read The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, he defines three categories of people, and I saw myself heavily represented in each.

Mavens are the information specialists that often start ‘word of mouth’ epidemics due to their knowledge and skills. Salesmen are the persuaders, while not necessarily IN sales they are influential and persuasive by personality.

While I certainly CAN sell and DO like to collect random pieces of research for cocktail party talk, I see myself, in Gladwell’s terms, as a connector. I can’t help it and it isn’t always a blessing. (Thanks Wikipedia for jump-starting my memory and the references).

My friend Marianne, an underwater archeologist with a PhD, put it most succinctly when she said “No offense, Jaye, but you love everything.” I mention her credentials because I am proud of her, and because she didn’t just dole out this comment haphazardly. A writer who blends memoir with just the right touch of poignancy, Mare has known me for decades. She said “no offense” because she knew I might be sensitive to her comment. It isn’t at all that I love everything, but if I don’t love it, I surely know someone who will! I enjoy making those connections between folks.

I have to tell you about The Perpetual Child, Dismantling the Stereotype. I picked up this book before my recent vacation and I could not put it down! On  on the crowded adoptee-collector bookshelf, this book fills a major gap.

I always felt somewhat like a perpetual child myself. I thought it was because I was so sensitive (don’t bring her to the funeral-she’ll only cry though the whole thing). I thought it was because I was, chronologically, the baby of the family. “Oh by the way, mommy had a mastectomy yesterday. She didn’t tell you because she didn’t want you to feel upset.”

Oh yeah, when our mother had a mastectomy, my sister sat me down and poured some wine. I don’t drink wine, but for some reason I knew I should be imbibing on something. Instead of feeling upset that my mother had breast cancer, I immediately felt my face get hot with anger that nobody told me, that I couldn’t be supportive leading up to her surgery, that I couldn’t be praying for her. Blend all that with a sense of relief that along with asthma, poor vision and a plethora of other nuisances, I didn’t have the “bad genes” associated with cancer. (When my brain cancer was diagnosed, years later, the joke was not lost on me).

*****

My heart was racing when I read the story by Karen Pickell about taking her letter to her original mother to the post office.

“The neurons under my skin are shooting sparks.”

With an economy of language, Pickell creates a moment in time that is simultaneously singular and universal for many of us, that moment when the individual decides to take the first step at reunion (or perpetually decides not to take it, in itself a decision to perpetually make decisions).

An essay by Matthew Salesses stood out for me not only by what it said regarding adoption but what it said about bullying/adoption. I started out blogging, unintentionally, by writing about the bullies on the bus. Again, I thought it was my over-sensitivity and my desire to prevent anyone from having negative feelings (or perhaps, any feelings at all) that made me a (bulled) target.

I enjoyed this book for the variety of stories it contained, many by familiar authors. If you are looking for something a little different, at times academic, always warm and thought-provoking as it is thoughtful, you will not go wrong with this book. Yes, to paraphrase Marianne, I do like a lot of stuff. If you have read all the standard adoption fare, I would seriously consider adding this to your collection.

*****

You might also like these book-related comments by Luanne at Don’t We Look Alike.