What’s in a Title?

Carol A. Hand

What deeper messages do titles convey? That’s a question that arises as I contemplate a powerful poignant book I just finished reading, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity by Marijane Huang. I read this work from a unique perspective as an Ojibwe scholar who has studied the history of Indian child welfare, as a descendant of a culture that has survived despite centuries of Native American child removal policies. I reflected on Huang’s experiences as a daughter who witnessed the deep emotional scars my Ojibwe mother carried as a result of the joyless, demeaning years she spent in a Catholic Indian boarding school far from her family and home. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the topic of child removal, particularly adoption, triggers so many thoughts and memories for me. Often, I need to turn to critical scholarly reflection for balance to consider the underlying questions.

Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and aspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. (Wade Davis, 2009, p. 2)

Huang speaks of the “primal wound” adoptees suffer due to “multiple losses, the most significant being the loss of the adoptee’s birth mother, but also that of culture, language, and original family” (p. xvi). Removing children from their families, communities, and nations causes harm on many levels and can be viewed as a powerful form of ethnocide. Huang’s account hints at the life-long suffering of her birth mother and family of origin because her father made choices he felt necessary in a context that wasn’t supportive of children and families. It reminded me of some of the stories I heard during my research about Ojibwe child welfare, aggregated into a poem I later wrote.

…All the child welfare system could do
was take a mother’s children away.
No one ever asked why she always had tears in her eyes.
Although her daughter cried for her beautiful mother every day,
no one ever asked what her mother needed to heal.
So the young girl spent her childhood with strangers,
a grieving mother mourned, and the White strangers felt virtuous.
The Ojibwe community lost yet another child to county removal
and the child welfare system closed the case, its job complete…

Huang’s courage to confront her fear of the unknown and her tenacity to keep moving forward despite so many obstacles are deeply inspiring. It wasn’t too late for her to reconnect to her original cultural legacy and some of the family that she lost as an infant. Her honest, gracious, and moving narrative brought me inside her experiences. She brought me inside her feelings as she discovered her adoption papers when she was in her 40s and learned of her heritage for the first time. And I felt as though I stood with her in the Taipei airport in Taiwan anxiously awaiting her first meeting with her two older sisters who had last seen Huang as an infant.

Huang’s healing journey brings joy and tears. I’m grateful for the chance I had to travel along with her. Her first book ends with a powerful realization.

Without a doubt, the reunion with my birth family has been one of the most significant, life-altering events of my life. (p. 159).

Learning to see the world through different cultural lenses is always s gift, and Huang does such a powerful job taking us beyond two profoundly different cultural worlds to see both the importance of being in touch with our cultural roots and the human bonds that connect us across cultures.

To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have historically allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of a language or the assimilation of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves. (Davis, pp. 201-202)

I hope Huang will have an opportunity to return to Taiwan and I eagerly await her next book.

Information about how to purchase a copy of Huang’s book, published on May 8, 2017, is available on her website, Beyond Two Worlds.

Works Cited:

Wade Davis (2009). The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Toronto, ON, Canada: House of Anansi Press, Inc.

Marijane Huang (2017). Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Bloomington, IN: Author House.

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Patience Please

Carol A. Hand

Here I am, ‘though bleary eyed
after editing all day
I’d like to answer comments
but I’ve little else left to say

Two hundred pages done
Two hundred more to go
Some days the work seems easier
but progress is still so slow

Please forgive me for my late replies
and less frequent visits to your blogs
I just need time to rest weary eyes
while pondering nature’s beauty

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Columbine – June 2017

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and taking pictures of little dogs

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Pinto – June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sending my best wishes to all and sincere gratitude for your patience.

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The Challenge of “Getting Real”

Carol A. Hand

The more real you get, the more unreal the world gets.” (John Lennon)

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Tenacious Life

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Working on a book manuscript that is in part a memoir presents unique opportunities and challenges. In the editing process, I often reach passages that sound so sappy and superficial. “Ah,” I think, “this needs more work. I need to go deeper and get real.”

Few people have read the part of my manuscript that has been edited (150 pages so far), so my vulnerability is relatively unexposed. I still have 75 percent of the manuscript yet to format and edit. Life frequently interrupts that process. I wonder if I allow too many distractions as a way to postpone sharing personal disclosures even though the final work will go out under a pen name.

Even so, it seems my willingness to get ever more “real” sometimes makes me feel as though I have somehow awakened in an alternate dystopian reality that makes no sense. The heartlessness, cruelty, ignorance, and destructiveness manifested in the pursuit of illusions broadcast by media every day are beyond my comprehension. It only takes a moment to witness the wonder and mystery of life that constantly surrounds us. Of course, experiencing those moments takes willingness and discipline.

How deeply I wish I could share what I see with others. That also takes discipline and the willingness to be vulnerable. It seems some people just don’t want to be still long enough to listen deeply and look intently enough to see the miracles of life everywhere – in a dandelion tenaciously growing through cracks in the concrete or the majesty and mystery of cloud formations passing just out of reach overhead.

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Lake Superior – June 17, 2017

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Although getting real can sometimes be a lonely place, being able to witness beauty where we are conveys its own rewards.

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Northshore Highlights

Carol A. Hand

A colorful morning although skies were grey

On a cool but ordinary Saturday

Bumble bee feasting – June 17, 2017

An impromptu trip along Lake Superior’s Northwest shore

Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel

Dramatic skies promised rain for sure

Heading North

A Rainy View

Fast moving storms pass, creating fog and rising steam

Lake Superior View from Palisade Head (Beaver Bay, MN)

Inspiring a moment to ponder, perhaps to dream

My daughter, gazing a the lake she loves

Watching a robin bathe

A Happy Robin

And a rescued resting little bug

An insect my granddaughter lovingly rescued

Taking time to enjoy family

Lake Superior – Palisade Head

Cross River Falls, MN

Cross River Falls

And time for a hug

Grand Marais, MN

Beautiful sights and laughter along the way

Lake Superior – Grand Marais, MN

Cross River Falls – looking west

Cross River Falls – looking east

Treasures of travels on an ever-shifting weather day

After the storm passed through

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A Miracle of Life

Carol A. Hand

Despite fierce winds

brutal cold and pounding rain

delicate but tenacious – columbine

gracefully blossoming

once again

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Columbine Bud (Aquilegia) – June 11, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections – Early June, 2017

Carol A. Hand

A cool morning breeze
touches my feverish forehead
while I watch the dawning
struggling to breathe

What is important in this moment?
Loving thoughts of the next generation
Gratitude for healers and visionaries
who stand together in solidarity for the earth

While I’m here, that knowledge is enough
Healing will come this time or not
There’s no time to waste worrying

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Early afternoon layers of clouds rolling in
Lines of school buses leave the elementary school
signaling the beginning of summer vacation
My heart feels heavy as I wonder
what the next school year will bring
as politicians quickly dismantle hope

The cost of war and tax cuts for the rich
leaves the future for children precarious
without safe affordable housing, education, nutrition,
without adequate income, access to health care,
without assurance of clean air to breathe, safe water to drink
Will they have a chance to know joy rather than slavery?

All I can do today that feels real
is plant and water gardens,
feeling light energy flowing through me
a mixture of deep sorrow and certainty
that sowing love in all our actions
rather than fighting is the wiser choice

Squash Garden – June 2017

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The moon offers her comforting light
Signaling that it’s time to rest
despite so many tasks incomplete
New responsibilities begin tomorrow
to preserve and share the healing work
of a wise and gifted Ojibwe elder

Early June, 2017

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Ah, Choices

Carol A. Hand

So much gardening to do but so much to say

on this lovely last day in the month of May

Editing felt like the honorable choice

fulfilling a promise to give others a voice

Their suffering and resilience through the ages

shared in stories with love on manuscript pages

Today I chose to plant seeds in a different fashion

with hopes they will blossom into compassion

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Crabapple Tree – May 2017

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Reflections at the End of May

Carol A. Hand

Gratitude

at the close of May

My spirit will breathe easier

because you decided to bloom today

despite the gray skies that

came our way

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Crabapple Tree – May 29, 2017

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Finally Spring Snippets

Carol A. Hand

May 2017

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After waiting patiently through summer, fall, and snow

a mystery of the willow is finally revealed

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Willow – Female Catkin – May 2017

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Catkins bloom on swaying branches as gentle breezes blow

answering my question about gender, an enigma unsealed

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Beloved Willow – May 2017

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now that the eagerly anticipated spring has belatedly begun

she reaches gracefully toward the morning sun

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May 2017

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A lone tulip emerges amid the ferns during these warming days

her petals open oh so slightly – a response to my loving gaze?

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May 2017

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Ah what is that sweet gentle scent I’ve not noticed in the past

Bleeding hearts are nodding to unveil their spring gifts at last

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Reflections about Invented Traditions

Carol A. Hand

All of the sacred lifeways of the past

that we now revere as traditions

were once newly created, seen as divine messages

passed on through seers and bodhisattvas

around the world throughout human time

Visions were given meaning and substance

from so many different cultural vantage points –

stories passed down from generation to generation,

recorded on stone tablets and sacred birchbark scrolls,

and in bibles, constitutions, and scientific texts

 

That doesn’t mean the messages are untrue

It simply reminds us that all traditions

should be continually re-examined

in the critical light of changing contexts and times

What we believe to be cast in stone may no longer serve us

Perhaps it’s time to make adjustments

or invent new ways to socially construct

different, peaceful, inclusive possibilities

instead of simply continuing to repeat

the divisive, oppressive, violent ways

we mindlessly use old traditions to justify

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Dandelion Field – May 23, 2017

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A simple but relevant question to ponder:

Why are dandelion fields less valued than well-manicured grass lawns and flowerbeds?

Notes:

The question of traditions is something I am revisiting as I edit my book manuscript and reflect on old family dynamics that keep repeating. Two helpful resources are listed below if you are interested in scholarly discourse on the topics of invented traditions and imagined communities.

Benedict Anderson (1995). Imagined Communities. London, UK: Verso.

Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger (Eds.)(1992). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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Posted in Challenging the Status Quo | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments