Friday, August 11, 2017

Exciting News! I'm on the Dirtbag Diaries! Yahoo!

"Double Vision" went live today!  
I'm very excited and honored to have my work featured on The Dirtbag Diaries podcast! It's been my favorite podcast since I found it about two years ago--I admired the quality of the writing, production, and entertainment value of their episodes. One day, as I was walking my dog along the greenbelt with my friend Robin, I told her about the Dirtbag Diaries, how much  I liked it, and she said, "Maybe you should write for them!" 

Well, it's happened. Here it is; I would love it if you could take 15 minutes and listen to it. I'm so excited! My essay, "Double Vision," on The Dirtbag diaries Podcast. 

Here are a few pictures taken around the time this story takes place: 

Crossing the Teklanika River, 
Alaska 1992

Climbing Mt. Hubris, Castle Crags, California 1996

Hiking on a day off from rangering duties at Grand Canyon, 1991

Beginning of My Report on Berlin

Frida: fractured and beautiful, as always

Here's what I've been up to: exploring the lesser-known corners of Berlin! And thinking about social justice, and freedom, and patriotism, and the evils of nationalism, and the U.S. involement in all kinds of things it should and shouldn't be involved in. The above art of Frida Kahlo is a photo I took at Teufelsberg, a graffiti "gallery" that inhabits the remains of a CIA spy tower built on a hill that is composed of the rubble of destroyed buildings from World War II. In other words: an art gallery built on the rubble of the Cold War, which is built on top of the rubble of World War lI. In a nutshell, Berlin. 
Yes, lots of feelings about America here

As I mentioned, I've been thinking about patriotism a lot too these days, given our current political situation. Here's an essay I wrote for the July 4th holiday, but it seems appropriate to post it here now as well, after witnessing the art at Teufelsberg:

Lineage and Independence Day
As I spread my dad’s ashes on the graves of his revolutionary war ancestors, I found a star-shaped medal at each gravesite, placed there by the Sons of the American Revolution. Each star point declared a value: to love justice, to be sincere and open-hearted, to suffer persecution. Like his ancestors, my dad was sincere and open-hearted, and he loved justice, to be sure. While as a lefty-liberal Political Science professor, he had suffered little persecution, I suffered persecution because of his heritage.
One day, when I was a junior in high school, I was summoned to my guidance counselor's office.
Smiling brightly, Mrs. Simic said, "Andrea, you've been nominated by the DAR to apply for a college scholarship!"
            "What's the DAR?” I asked. I had never heard of it.
            "The Daughters of the American Revolution! You are one! You have an ancestor who was a patriot. That's how you got nominated for this scholarship—but you have to take a test to compete for it."
I took the test, which asked about patriotic things: who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the like. But I never learned my score because of what happened next.
Mrs. Simic called me at home. "I'm so sorry," she said, "but you're ineligible for the scholarship."
            "I failed the test?" I asked.
            She hesitated a bit. "No, it wasn't that. You're adopted, correct?"
            "Yes…" I wondered how she knew.
            “The DAR is a lineage organization. Its membership is limited to direct lineal descendants of revolutionary patriots. They looked up your birth certificate and noticed that it’s amended—it’s an adoption birth certificate."
            At that point in my life, I didn't know what the DAR had tried to do to Marian Anderson in 1939. I only knew they had claimed me as one of them and were offering college funds, which I needed. And now I learned that because I was adopted, they had rejected me. Looking back, I wonder if my dad never told me about his family’s connection to the DAR because he knew they wouldn’t accept me— and he despised that kind of injustice.
            Confused, I asked, "I'm DQed from the scholarship because I'm adopted?"
            "I'm afraid so. I'm sorry."
            I was adopted in 1967, when the attitude toward adoption was this: if adoptive parents treated the adopted child as their own, the child would magically become theirs. That way, the fact of adoption could be ignored, the birth-family would cease to exist, and it would all be for the best. It was the stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears-and-sing, “LA-LA-LA-LA-I can't-hear-you" approach to adoption. No information about the birth-family was given to the adopted person, and vice versa. Adopted people like me grew up feeling they should only identify with one family, so I identified as a Ross—until the DAR told me that I wasn't. I didn’t belong to the family who had raised me. But neither did I feel I was of the family I'd been born to: I was not legally allowed to know who they were.
            My son, too, grew up hearing our Ross family lore of coming to this country and fighting for freedom. He loves history, and he loves that he has revolutionary ancestors. George Ross, his great-great-great-great-uncle signed the Declaration of Independence. He claims the Rosses as his, as he should. And he, too, suffered the same kind of rejection I did: recently, at a revolutionary war reenactment, he excitedly talked to a man recruiting for Sons of the American Revolution. My husband started helping our son with the application, but on its front page: “we accept men with a lineal connection to an ancestor who provided service to the cause of American Independence.” Our son wasn’t qualified. He was crushed. And I was at a loss to explain to him that he's not "really" a Ross, even though he bears their appellation and they are the only ancestors he knows.

Sometimes things change: most DAR scholarships are now open to non-members. And many open adoptions take place now—every family member has the right to know the others.
Sometimes things don’t change: those organizations still don’t consider us members of our own family. And I still don’t have the legal right to see my own birth certificate.
This is a reminder that, while we may have learned from past mistakes and taken steps to make amends, as the DAR attempted with Marian Anderson, the fight for justice and equality must continue. Given our country’s current political climate and the pursuant rise in nationalism and bigotry, we must recall the patriotic principles of open-heartedness, tolerance, justice, and equality that American revolutionaries and their forbears sought when immigrating here. On this Independence Day, we must remember our country’s battles by working for acceptance and egalitarianism.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Gesture Writing": Some Good Advice for Writing about Adoption

Did you see the interesting essay called "Gesture Writing" in Sunday's New York Times Review section? Author Rachel Howard explains how her job as a nude model for art classes led to some information about how to write better, something she calls Gesture Writing. She says, "realizing that writing is a lot like drawing gives us a deeper approach. Because really, before we put a word or a mark on the page, both writers and artists must first step back and see. And seeing is not simple."

This article appeared at a perfect time for me, as I am wading through my manuscript (it's about the decade I spent as a wilderness guide while I searched for my birth parents) and trying to connect the chapters. Howard made me realize that I, too, am looking for the gesture in my writing, trying to "step back" from the page  and see the overall movements, gestures of the work.

Good advice.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

New Novel: Jennifer Gilmore's The Mothers

Yesterday on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Jennifer Gilmore, author of a new novel about a couple going through the process of open adoption. (Click here to link to the interview.) One of many things that intrigued me about Gilmore and her book was that she said that although her novel draws heavily upon her personal experiences with adopting a child, she chose to write fiction rather than memoir because she wanted to be tougher on her main character than she thought she could be on herself. I liked hearing that because it indicated that this novel would not be all roses and snuggles and babies in blankets, that we might perhaps meet an adoptive mother character who has flaws, and by extension, an adoption system that has flaws.

I haven't yet read the book. Have you? Want to weigh in?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birth Day

Yesterday was my birthday. Many lovely friends and family members reached out to me to wish me happiness via Facebook, text, phone, and in person.

An adopted friend wrote, "Happy Birthday, Andrea. If birthdays are as difficult for you as they are for me, I wish you the best in getting through yours. If not, then just have a great day!" It was a sweet, empathetic message, and it really made me feel for my friend.

There were many years in my early adulthood when an impending birthday would bring with it feelings of dread and sadness. On many May 20ths I woke up in the morning wondering who I really was, what it meant that I was born, and if the woman who had borne me was thinking about me on that day.

I compensated for these negative feelings by planning elaborate birthday adventures so that I would be too busy to think those sad thoughts. But the sad thoughts always crept back to me anyway.

I'm happy to say that since I reunited with my birth families, even though learning how to be in relationship with them has at times been challenging, I no longer dread my birthday. I don't languish in bed wondering if I deserve to exist on this planet.

Birthdays are no longer a big deal to me anymore. I don't need anyone to make a big fuss just to prove they love me, I don't make elaborate plans so I can celebrate myself. I deeply enjoy hearing from friends, but I don't sit around waiting for the phone to ring.

There is tremendous power in knowing where we came from, and those of us who are or were denied that knowledge tend to struggle. Our struggles manifest in various ways, but they are struggles nonetheless.

For any of you reading who do not have access to information about some part of your family, some part of where you are from, that integral part of the self, please know that my heart is with you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poetry Wednesday

This is a fake legend. I wrote it to try to portray the feeling that many adoptees have that they are not fully human because they aren't allowed to know their true origins.

Sometimes, we invent our origins.

The stanzas written in regular lettering are meant to represent someone telling a story, the italics indicate where the storyteller is spinning a tall tale.


by Andrea Ross

Crouched on a shale slope, she peered

from between yucca spears

to watch them toboggan down snow patches

on their black-feathered asses; she muffled

her laugh when they snacked on snow-clods.

She learned raven-talk—

the sounds of water pouring into a canteen,

a hasp settling into place.

But what she loved most

was the way ravens loved: in mid-air.

Opposites attracted;

her sweetheart was a rock-climber.

He spent each free moment pressed

to canyon walls, while she loved the air’s caress.

Some swore she jumped.

She tumbled over the rim

like the pack-mules in the snowstorm that year.

Black feathers crowed across her face in love—free-fall, a mile.

They twirled, iridescent, and then swept upward.

Now, in a pile of raven’s down,

a human-raven baby softly grows

while mother blackness swoops

around the world, calling.