Tag Archive | Surviving

How much can you take/How much can you give

Here are two survival stories the Bruised Muse can’t resist sharing. Let’s call them Survival Stories #41 and #42.  Please share yours by writing frandorf@aol.com, or by leaving a comment.

The first is from a good friend during my teen years, Steve, with whom I recently reconnected via the magic of Facebook.  Now Steve insists we were such good friends that we once kissed all those years ago.  I can neither confirm nor deny this event, because my brain these days is barely more than swiss cheese and my memory is just a memory.  And of course confirmation is made even more difficult by the fact that my brain back then was severely addled by excessive drug use. (The in-between years are what count.)  No matter.  It’s far more important that Steve nearly died about fifteen years ago and is now severely disabled and suffers from chronic pain, but still manages to retain his sense of humor.  He writes:  “Did I tell you? I feel like I’m the only contestant on the show “How Much Can You Take”, where challenges get easier, starting with near death & coma.”

And then there’s this story, which moves me beyond words, from my friend, Ralph, who is also quite a funny guy. (Actually, he’s one of the top three or five funniest people I’ve ever met)  As Ralph recounts in his brilliant memoir, “Reasonable People,” he and his wife Emily adopted a nonspeaking six-year-old named DJ, even though they were told that DJ was autistic and profoundly retarded.  This amazing couple took on that child with their whole hearts, and with amazing love, patience, persistence, creativity, and respect, worked with him, struggled to teach him language and to make sure he was included in school and in life, and now DJ not only isn’t retarded, he’s going to Oberlin College!  Going to Oberlin, even though he is still autistic and non-speaking.  Wow. Check out Ralph’s post on HuffPo.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ralph-james-savarese/the-silver-trumpet-of-fre_b_827107.html

Remember to sign up for your dose of survival via email, and share the survival inspiration found here with your friends.  Repost this link on facebook or send the link.  

We all need inspiration to survive this crazy life, so share your survival story on the Bruised Muse.

Guest Survival Story: An Adoptee Searches for her Mother

Hello Bruised Muse Readers,

A friend, Terri Vanech, sent me this piece, which, I think, fits nicely with my blog theme, and the theme of my upcoming memoir about surviving this crazy life.  The truth is, everyone has survived something.  The Bruised Muse invites readers to share their stories, survival tips, survival inspiration. Just make a comment or email me at frandorf@aol.com.  Thanks all.  We learn from each other. And don’t forget, you can get SURVIVAL in your email. It’s free. No snark.  No spam.  Sign up just to the right of this post.  Here’s Terri’s story:

Allow me to introduce myself.

I know; some of you are thinking, “Don’t I already know you?” Funny thing is, until recently, I thought I knew all there was to know about myself.

But in the mail today came a document I’ve coveted more than any college acceptance letter. It is my adoption information from Westchester (N.Y.) Family Services. A social worker there has transcribed the events leading up to my birth in a 4½-page document culled from WFS files. The report contains no identifying information about my birth parents, but offers some new pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is my life.

Make no mistake: I’m not bitter or angry about the circumstances of my birth. My parents — by this I mean the couple who adopted me — are terrific, loving and generous people. I’m fortunate they chose me and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Still, there are plenty of things about me I don’t know, and as I’ve aged and watched my daughter blossom into a beautiful young woman, those simple curiosities have grown, too. Two summers ago, I finally decided to request the information sealed away all these years.

I once worried that searching would hurt my parents’ feelings, but I needn’t have feared. They have been amazingly supportive, offering me yet another in a long line of gifts I can never repay.

My request in July 2008 for non-identifying information from my birth certificate turned up precious little information, so I followed up with WFS. And waited.

The WFS report confirms what my family always suspected — I am the daughter of unwed teenagers — and offers some new information: My birth mother was blonde, blue-eyed and considered pretty. She had an upturned nose and engaging smile. She intended to go to college and work in the data processing field.

My ancestry is English and German.

My birth father left high school to become a machinist apprentice.

I was born breech — both feet first — and have been baptized twice.

Workers at the maternity home reported that my birth mother took excellent care of me during the six days I stayed there with her; the WFS reports are clear that she never wavered in her commitment to put me up for adoption.

It is a lot of information to digest, and I have found myself repeatedly rereading the report in an effort to understand and find more clues to who I am.

My remaining questions vary from the seemingly frivolous to much headier stuff: Which one of them is responsible for my dry sense of humor? Are the snow-white strands of hair taking over my head similar to hers? Do I have siblings? What would my birth parents think of their biological granddaughter? Does my birth father think about me? Would they be proud of the person I’ve become?

Did she love me?

After first reading the report, I had a bit of an identity crisis, but I made peace with that quickly. Regardless of the answers to my many queries, the report doesn’t change who I am; it simply helps put some things in perspective. Most of all, it’s amazing to know even this much about myself after all these years.

Now, with the blessings of my parents and my husband, I’m starting the next leg of this journey of self-discovery. I don’t know where it will lead, but I welcome the trip.

Terri S. Vanech, an Old Greenwich resident, is the former features editor of The Advocate.  This piece originally appeared in the Advocate.

Surviving the Memoir: A Writer Reacts to Amy Chua

I’m writing this post as a kind of self-courage builder. Let’s call it survival inspiration for myself.

I haven’t yet read Amy Chua’s controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but I’ve just completed my own memoir, and as I begin to send it out into world to be read and judged by agents, publishers and eventually (I’m hopeful) readers, Amy Chua gives me pause.

I’ve been a writer all my life. When I was a teenager, writing was my lifesaver, the way I secretly kept myself sane. Although my three published full-length books are fiction, I surrendered to non-fiction in 2008, after surviving the latest in a long line of personal calamities, breast cancer (diagnosed just six weeks before my daughter’s wedding) and a surgical infection after a mastectomy that nearly killed me.  My book is (well, partly) an attempt to make sense of the ridiculous amount of “tsuris” in my life, including for starters three miscarriages, serious family mental illness, and the worst of the worst, the 1994 death of my son, Michael.  

And here’s Amy Chua, who seems to be everywhere these days. I even caught her the other night on Colbert, who joked to his audience, “Get back to that Mendelssohn concerto before she drowns your bunny!” I admit I laughed, even though as a psychotherapist and mother, I do find some of what I’ve heard about her “Chinese” child rearing practice appalling and even abusive, even IF the Chinese are poised to overtake us.

As a writer, however, I find it painful to watch Chua deal with the craze of Chua-abuse sweeping the nation, even hate mail and actual threats, these being an unfortunate part of the American landscape these days. She’s been called everything from a monster to a wimp, the latter by none other than David Brooks, the conservative Times columnist, who claims, “Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls.”

Some might look at the public reaction to Chua’s book as karma. The cynic or PR person might quote Barnum to the effect that ALL publicity, even really BAD publicity, is good for sales. Yet no matter how well Chua is selling, it still gets me in my writer’s heart to keep hearing her have to defend herself: “It isn’t a ‘how-to’ book, it’s a memoir. “

Many people, usually those who shout the loudest and get the most attention, simply lack the capability to understand nuance, the kind of emotional arc you find in most memoirs, such as the arc Ms. Chua points to in her own defense in eventually pulling back from her practices.

Mr. Brooks says he “hopes Ms. Chua’s daughters grow up to write their own books, and maybe learn the skills to better anticipate how theirs will be received.” Nonsense.  You never really know how people will react to a piece of writing.

In the case of my own memoir, these are some of my worries:  Some might be appalled at how candid I am. Certain relatives might call me a lying big mouth. Other people might object to my attempt to write a book that’s often funny and ALSO takes up the death of my son. Some might complain that exposing my brother’s mental illness is wrong, even though I attempt to disguise him by changing his name. Some might object to certain medical decisions we made for our son, even though one of the points of the book is to expose the arrogance of certain public officials who would presume to intervene in the horrendous PRIVATE medical decisions that people make everyday in this country, real decisions made by real people like my husband and me. (For the moment, research Terry Shiavo for further details.)

Writing is always an act of faith; the writer who doesn’t know that is doomed to suffering. The writer who thinks she’ll be congratulated for telling the truth is also doomed to suffering. I’m trying to keep in mind a great quote from David Sedaris: “Writing gives you the illusion of control, but then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff to it.”

I write, first and foremost, to make sense of the world (as Huxley says, to make order out of this disordered life), and so whatever happens with my memoir of survival stories, the project will have been worth doing.  As a writer, whatever the risks, you write because you simply have no choice. And this writer, in her faith, remains hopeful that most readers will find my book funny, moving and (God forbid) inspirational.

In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you the name of my book. My ex-PR man husband says I should hold off on that one. I always listen to my husband.