Monday, October 22, 2007

Autumn On The Farm

All photos taken by the hubby who managed a self-portrait while floating in the canoe.

More Photos

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Putting It All Together in Pittsburgh

I KNEW IT WOULD BE GOOD. When Marianne Novy invited me to be part of a panel of men who write adoption memoirs, I knew her Encountering New Worlds of Adoption: 2nd International Conference on Adoption and Culture at the University of Pittsburgh this past weekend would be a conference at which I would not only want to present, but also to stay for its entirety.

I was not disappointed.

The Cathedral of Learning (pictured - no that's not the Empire State Building) hosted English professors, sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, historians, lawyers, authors, filmmakers, poets, novelists, memoirists, feminists, activists, birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and others in the best conference on adoption I've attended since becoming aware of such things in 2003.

The session on Men Write Adoption Memoirs was held on Friday afternoon. Chaired by Faith Adiele, a 1986 Harvard graduate who also happened to be a friend of my best friend Gail, the session was packed. Faith dubbed it "the man show" as women made up the vast majority of conference attendees. She got a laugh. As did all the readers, prompting Jean Strauss, who presented on the opening plenary panel Adotpion Memoirs Classic and New, to ask us whether or not we concsciously infused our narratives with humor.

"What struck me," she said, "was that you all say the same things we [women] say, but you make it funny."

Laughter is the best medicine. Was it Reader's Digest that coined that gem?

Adoption and the attendant issues are serious business. But there is humor in everything, if you let yourself see it.

Ralph Savarese, Peter McCullough, Ned Balbo, and I responded that whatever effort there was to infuse our work with humor was largely unintentional. Peter, an academic writer who read from a manuscript-in-progress, said that he used humor to tell his personal story because he wanted to make space for an audience he didn't think would be all that interested in the solopsism of autobriographical writing. Still, I think his delivery is what garnered most of the laughs. Having taught at Oxford for some time now, his acquired British accent and wit made many of his metaphors even more funny than they might have been on paper alone. Ralph dismissed with the "conceit of remembered dialogue" and read primarily from his 9-year-old autistic son's own words that his son had typed on his computer. Ralph was able to infuse humor into a story of torture and redemption. No small task. Ned read with the quiet deliberation of a literary poet, but still managed to draw a few laughs.

I've never considered myself funny. But bringing the characters of my life to life in a way that I hadn't in a long time got lots of laughs. My people are hilarious. What with all their downright uptight religious dogma. At some point you just can't take it all so seriously. And this reading told me that I might need to perform again sometime in the near future. Perhaps it will inspire me to finish adapting parts of my book into a performance piece that tells the story of my reunion from the perspective of eight people in my adoptive and biological families. Attending the conference with her mother was a little girl who couldn't have been any more than 7 or 8-years-old. At the closing dinner, she told me that I was one of her favorite speakers.

Children don't say such things unless they mean them. I took her compliment seriously. Perhaps my semi-retirement from performance will come to a semi-end sometime in the near future.

I can't possibly write about all the great sessions I attended in one entry. But conferences are, ultimately, about meeting and connecting with people. I'd like to think I made friends with Susan, Emily H, Lorrain, Jean, Emily P, Janet, Carol, Shayla, Cindy, Marianne and her husband, and a few others whose names escape me at the moment. But if by some chance you're reading this and I haven't named you, you know who you are. The conversations I had with you all on shuttles to and from the airport, at the hotel lounge, around the dinner table, between sessions in the labyrinthian cathedral stairwells and halls, walking to restaurants, and at the final lunch are fresh in my mind.

I thank Marianne for a wonderful, fulfilling experience and I hope to attend the 3rd International Conference on Adoption and Culture whenever, wherever it may be.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Aleigh Mills: A Tribute

FUNNY HOW THINGS WORK. I posted an entry on a women I didn't actually know but whose murder spoke to me in a spiritual place. About a month ago, a reader sent me an email after reading that entry that I'm posting in its entirety below:

I just came upon your blog from Google as I was (as many times have) was looking for info on Aleigh's murder. I wish you had met her because your thoughts are right on the money and I admire you for your compassionate insights.

I knew Aleigh pretty well a few years ago. I was a permanent substitute teacher at the middle school she attended in Stratham, NH. I have a son who was in the same grade and was friendly with her. They competed on different basketball teams but had a friendly rivalry.

To say Aleigh lit up a room is a gigantic understatement. She was the room!! She was constantly loud, laughing, the center of any group with a big smile on her face.

This middle school was 99.9% white and she was the 1%!! Twice Aleigh let me know she was insecure about this and did not like being in such a stark minority. She once half-kiddingly accused me of picking on her because she was black. The truth (and she knew) was she was very boisterous and had to be told to quite down. Another time was basically the same with a different teacher.

The day last summer I found out she was murdered It was meant to happen. I was sitting going thru the news channels at 6 pm (we live near Maine, Mass and in NH) so I sometimes flip thru all. But not so much Maine I will go to unless I am searching for weather (which is alot of their newscast). The news immediately went to a story about a young girl found murdered in Northern Maine named Alexandra Mills. I was doing something else and was only listening and I put my head up and thought: hmmm that sounds familiar. But the story was about a murder!! So as I watched they showed a basketball team of UMaine players and there in the back was a black girl - Oh My God!! I got goose bumps right away and called up the stairs to my son to come down immediately. I said: Look Corey it's Aleigh Mills and they are saying she has been murdered!!! Awe knew it was her,( especially on a basketball team ) and going to UMaine was right also because Aleigh was an excellent student (she hated math though and struggled with it) and we knew she would be at a university. And you could not deny her big, smiling face in the back of the team. Which I believe she was captain of, which makes perfect sense. She would have the most spirit you knew and was a natural leader also.

I felt so sick to my stomach and my son, who is not jaded yet by violence at all, was obviously shaken.How could someone Soooooooo alive and happy be dead?? Who could do this?? My son and me had recently drove by her beautiful house in Newfield's, NH and my son was wondering where she was and doing what. THAT is a impact she had. Even though we had not seen her in years (5) you would never forget her.

I hope this is not too long, it is a release for me to write this and also a tribute to her. I also thought the same thing: black, adopted and murdered. I take comfort in knowing she was happy and had some fulfilling/fun times in her short life.I still would like to know how she died but of course I kind of know (beaten?). I can still see the father coming in to watch her play basketball games. He was crippled and on a cane. He must be a special person for obvious reasons

One last thing: after her murder alot of my son's friends IM profiles said RIP AM. She left this area after the 8th grade, 5 years earlier. If you met her you would never forget her. I hope wherever she is, she is laughing and flirting with the boys. Shine on Aleigh you crazy diamond.

Thank you.