Inexplicable Connections: Our Most Compelling Selves?

Is it possible I like whiskey because my biological parents were Irish? Do I have a greater propensity to speak Romanian because I overheard it in the womb (or even because my mother was Romanian)?

Previously (here and here), I asked what kind of narratives we choose (when we choose) to tell ourselves about our adoptions. Lately, this topic has resurfaced in a different form: what kinds of narratives are told about adoptees, especially in supposedly scientific research that has actually set out to answer questions like the two above. These studies aim to prove different sorts of truths about adoptees; the pitfalls and potentials involved in this are discussed in more detail here.

All of this being so, an adoptee wrote:

But beyond all of this, I want to know why, against everything having to do with my self-preservation in Lebanon, I feel a resonance in certain places and among certain people. Not in a “honeymoon” kind of way, but in a gut instinct kind of way. I don’t know how to explain it. And I don’t mind hearing that I am full of shit, by the way (emphasis added).

I can relate to this. I sometimes think or feel that I have a twin out in the world somewhere, and I’ve wondered for years why the intellectual spirituality of India (particularly how “natural” or “obvious” reincarnation has always seemed to me) and so much of Russian culture have spoken to me so elementally. I’d randomly wandered into an article about John Wayne Gacy, and one of his victims died in November (my birth month), and involuntarily I wondered if it was my twin brother. Sometimes these inexplicable connections seem almost somehow like my most authentic or compelling self.

Two things seem obvious about my experience and the experience quoted above. First, there is this inexplicable sense of something that “must be true” because it seems so convincing even though there seems to be no other worldly or reasonable reason why it should be so. Why should Russian music or literature affect me this way, for instance. Second, the fact of this being so inexplicable, so strange, raises a desire in me to have that experience be recognized by other people. I don’t mean, necessarily, that they have to agree with me that it is “true”. I’m perfectly convinced already that I am having this experience. If I were to insist I love Russian music because I’m a reincarnated Russian, you don’t have to believe it; it seems often, though, people have a hard time believing even that someone might experience such a thing in the first place, whether claimed as “true” or not.

Put this way, one may see immediately how this connects to what is often experienced by adoptees–the failure or refusal of the world to recognize the experience of the adoptee.

But I don’t want just to ask, “How have you dealt with the fact that people have failed to recognize your experience?” because I suspect in a sense we “already know” that answer too well–though maybe there’re important things still to be dug out of that. So feel free, if so.

I feel like I might ask, “Is this kind of experience–of an eerie or inexplicable affinity for some things–common to many adoptees, or is this just one of those things?” because maybe it’s important just to get that out in the open.

Maybe what I do want to ask is, “What are your experiences like this about?” because I’d like to provide an opportunity where you can bear witness to that experience, knowing that it will be recognized rather than refused, confused, or dismissed.

10 thoughts on “Inexplicable Connections: Our Most Compelling Selves?

  1. [Blondie’s “Rules for Living” just came on the iPod; a song about the resonance of former lifetimes….So many things remind me/So many things inside….]

    I’ll go first as the “adoptee” quoted above! 🙂

    Thanks for this item! Perhaps what I said needs expansion. When I first got to Lebanon, I was in honeymoon mode. Meaning, everything was new, foreign, strange, exotic, etc. The usual returnee experience. I started documenting everything, and writing about it on my web site, diary pages about Beirut. I was explaining what was “foreign” to me to those “familiar” to me back in the States. I was living as an ex-pat, and my contact with the local population was of my acculturated class.

    When I moved to my current neighborhood, things radically changed, due mostly to the kindness of some people there who granted me the great privilege of hanging out in their open-air store, drinking tea with them every night, shooting the breeze with the locals, not understanding a word of what was being said around me, yet knowing that half the neighborhood thought I was a spy, or worse. I stuck this out for years, and today many people assume I work in the store. I don’t mind, and it makes for great comedy (as far as my friends are concerned) when it comes from Europeans and I erupt in a language they understand, or when someone refers to me as “3ammo” (“uncle”) or “hajj”.

    Over the course of these years, I slowly became unable to “document” anymore. I stopped taking pictures. I could no longer “explain” the foreign to the familiar because they had switched places. I took down the diary pages; they were embarrassing to me. I felt at ease in my neighborhood; estranged upon my return to New York. This was very disconcerting, and I felt compelled to “push” it, meaning, put skepticism on the front burner and see just how “welcoming” this now-familiar was, while trying to “refind” where I used to live in the States. The more I pushed, the more it opened up an area to explore; the more New York fell away.

    There are times when I want this all to fall apart. Because believing it might be this easy (it’s not easy) starts one down the path of thinking “who would I have been if….” and this is too sad and depressing a place to be. There are times when I desperately want to think there is an “escape hatch” that would allow for return to the States. There are times when I don’t trust it, and I push it, and it bends and reforms around me, and opens again. And there seems to be a twisted cosmic balance between this and the growing rejection of this new “me” Stateside….

    This is the consciously aware me talking about something that I can express rationally and logically. That I might be more comfortable around those who “get” the idea of being displaced (in this case, migrant workers and marginalized populations) makes rational sense. Given my politics and how I try to live my life, it also makes sense in that regard. So I can ascribe this “comfort” to things that are eminently describable if you will.

    What gets to me are the moments when it catches up and surprises me. When it grabs me and I need to pause to process it all and then decompress. After the war in 2006, I went to the victory rally held in the southern suburbs of Beirut. It was surreal, because “victory” was being celebrated in a neighborhood not too far from mine completely ravaged and destroyed by 33 days of Israeli bombardments. I went with a friend whose family had formerly lived there, and I brought a camera with me.

    Unlike the foreign press there, I was left undisturbed to walk around and take pictures for “fitting in”. At one point I gave the camera to my friend who started walking ahead, every so often turning and snapping a shot. I took in the scene and the crowd, and I suddenly felt overwhelmed. My friend was talking to me, and I was telling her to be quiet; she continued, asking me what was wrong, and I told her to leave me be—it was a powerful feeling that I couldn’t place or fathom. She stopped: “shoo bayk?” “What’s wrong with you?”

    I replied: “I’m lost in the crowd”…. It was the first time I felt literally “lost” in a crowd; not standing out in a picture; not out of place in a gathering. I started crying, but caught myself; it was crazy. Later, when I developed the pictures, I was astounded by just how “lost in the crowd” I really was. My body language was different; I was holding myself differently; my bearing was that of a different person. I want to think it was of a person who subconsciously knew he was home.

    But this too I put aside. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of romanticizing anything about my personal story, or making something out of nothing; taking a few wan narrative threads and weaving a whole tapestry out of them, which I had gotten quite good at. But as the clues have slowly started to come together, and I find myself “closer” to knowing where I am from, this “gut instinct” turns out to not be so far off.

    And it’s hard, because it comes with very particular ramifications in terms of society here, which is completely based on sectarian difference, and a hierarchy that would put me pretty much last when I have to declare it officially for my nationality. I’m pretty sure this aspect of things was a factor in my non-promotion where I was working previously; it’s already making problems in my new job. It even causes friction with my friends, due to local revolutions and the politics thereof.

    But I feel it in my gut. And so I go with it….for better and for worse.

    • Daniel, out of what you have written here, the part that especially jumped out at me is the desire not “to fall into the trap of romanticizing anything about my personal story, or making something out of nothing; taking a few wan narrative threads and weaving a whole tapestry out of them”.

      My basic response was, “Why not?” Not wanting to romanticize, that I understand and would be sympathetic with, but not making something out of nothing, or taking a few wan narrative threads and weaving a whole tapestry? Of course, I feel I understand what you mean, and at the same time, life itself is literally making something out of nothing and then taking a few wan narrative threads and weaving a whole tapestry out of them. Maybe adoptees are better (or at least more accustomed, more adept) at this, or maybe it is more of a introspective turn of mind.

      My post above splits something I wrote in two, so the part about the critique of “true” is in the other post. But the skepticism about making something out of nothing–is that related to wanting your own explanations about your experience, at least to yourself if no one else, to be true? Whether science or religion can validate that?

      Not wanting to romanticize things seems like it may be rooted in a sort of (sometimes necessary) vanity–of not wanting to seem like a fool, like someone who raves at cocktail parties about the latest, dubious neuroscience that proves–once and for all, dammit–that one’s experience (of adoption) really IS this or that. This aversion to romanticizing–as a desire not to be publicly acting the fool without realizing the public sees one that way–has a survival aspect as well. If you’d gone around the cafes, trying to be an instant friend to everyone (on the romantic notion that the inadvertently prodigal son had gotten HOME and these folks were all your long lost RELATIVES) then I can imagine you’d likely have been pushed so far to the margins that survival itself could’ve got placed in jeopardy.

      • Life itself is literally making something out of nothing and then taking a few wan narrative threads and weaving a whole tapestry out of them.

        This. I feel like my whole life I carried around an affected-slash-constructed identity that was not me. I’m loathe to recreate something that is equally a facade. I don’t want to reconstruct, I want to pare away down to what I am hoping will be, literally, a bare essence, and a more truthful sense of self.

        This gets us back to the “what might have been”, because this I realize is my parameter for putting up with people: How affected are they? People I tend to feel comfortable with do not have affectations in the boojy sense of the term.

        If I didn’t want to seem like a fool, I would have gone with my brief interlude with expatriate-ism, or would have remained within the community/sect/identity of my orphanage. This would at least have given me wasta—connections in the power sense—instead of what I have now, which is not much of anything at all.

      • Daniel: you pointed out a crucial point I neglected. “It’s not a matter of making something out of nothing” because what culture offers us to make something of in the first place is not “nothing”. Generally, it’s garbage, so that we have to repurpose anything in the first place before it’s even palatable to use.”

        So yes, we must unmake, breakdown, dismantle, salvage we can out of the trash that is currently available to us, and then try to make something out of that purified nothing.

        From reading Jung’s works on alchemy, it’s obvious that the problem of “purging” first is not a new one. the first step of alchemy is the nigredo, or blackening, breaking the material down, followed by the albedo, or whitening, and then the rubedo, the reddening, or heating. (“Found art” is an abrogation of this processes.)

        So, it’s making something out of nothing, but first we have to have nothing to work with.

  2. I too for decades believed I was one of twins. Reunion proved I was not but the feeling persisted.Reading B.J.Lifton I came to realise my twin self was the person I might have been but didn’t become because of adoption.

    • I hear what you mean about “the person I might have been”. Thanks to hanging out with all of you guys over the past n-months, I’ve realized that the recurrent trouble I’ve had with “wanting a younger brother” was really me wanting to be the younger brother.

      I have to dmit. That was kin of a breakthrough.

  3. Reblogged this on Daniel Ibn Zayd and commented:

    I come back to this discussion because in speaking with a friend recently I found myself stating the following in reply to her question asking why I stay in Lebanon:

    This is the dilemma. It’s about being deemed “non-existent” by the society that acculturated me. I was taught to think that my “poor” family gave me up and that bourgeois society made a place for me. I no longer believe this. This is the sad lesson I have learned, and the horrible truth, now that it is too late to “be” someone different. Above and beyond that is the inability for me to leave, to escape, when those I feel close to here don’t have this luxury and privilege. All I want at this point is to know someone from my family before my days are done. I just want to see a face that might mirror mine. That’s it.

    • I once described to two of the most spectacularly depressive people I knew my experience in high school in such effective terms that afterward they were both silent for some moments before acknowledgment the “infinite abyss” of loneliness I had shown them. It was a great moment of recognition. But certainly before high school I had already experienced nonexistence in multiple ways: the most obvious being that (at age 7) I felt I should “defect” to Russia (then still under the Soviets, of course). It was many years later in a book by Zinoviev that he described “internal exile”–as a state where a person has left a country in every way but physically, Usually because they cannot physically leave.

      These days, it seems a very real possibility to me that every good or quality conversation I have with people in my city functions less toward the end of working toward the possibility of a better world (through activism, enlightenment, the intellectual’s task of framing the experience of people so that they might change their worlds for the better) and more cannot evade co-optation by neoliberal capitalism–that even my attempts at resistance become complicit in the machinery of Empire. Short of writing Dr. Strangelove II (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Empire), my primary option seems expatriation–because (like Osip Mandelstam) I am more eroded than galvanized by any sort of posture or stance of principled opposition to Empire. That is, some people seem to need Empire, because Empire gives them something to stand against or push back against; I on the other hand don’t need or want Empire, at lest certainly not in the current form. I’d rather it were gone–and I say this without forgetting Monty Python’s sketch about the Roman Empire in “The Life of Brian”.

      So, in one sense, nonexistence would prove socially advantageous to the extent that it avoids co-optation, but then life itself loses any human interactivity. Neoliberal nightmare that you describe Lebanon to be, if it fundamentally stands as simply a branch office of the bank of neoliberalism, then I won’t envy you the alternative of being there instead of here. Even so, somewhat like you prefer to experience your racism in a straightforward rather than on the sly kind of way, to live where poverty does not strut around pretending in its Emperor’s New Clothes to be all hooked up at least allows those living in poverty to act humanly toward one another. If this description isn’t hopelessly inaccurate, it shows an argument for why one wouldn’t leave Lebanon–and even why one would move there in the first place.

  4. Profound writing here. I recently walked in Virginia (first time) hoping to “feel” some trace of the many ancestors who crossed the Cumberland Gap enroute to Kentucky then Illinois. My entire life I have not felt “home” anywhere. Synchronicity, deja vu and our bloodlines do lead us in a very spiritual way to find some inner peace.
    Thank you so much for this discussion!

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