Tuesday, November 06, 2007

TRA Nation tradition, tarnation!

Tell me, in single words, all the good things that come to mind about your mother.

So, last year we gave a nod to National Adoption Month and National Novel Writing Month and back then, we looked at folks like Moses, Romulus and Remus, the Peach Boy and of course, we could have mentioned old Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's.

We also talked about Outsiders Within.

Has it really been a year since it's come out? Where does the time go? And yet, there's a lot I see where the dialogue initiated by Outsiders Within still needs to go forward.


I am going to look back on 2007 as a banner year: Uniquely, 3 TRA books of poetry came out: Mine, Sun Yung Shin's Skirt Full Of Black, and Lee Herrick's This Many Miles From Desire.

What I appreciate about it is precisely what I understand some TRAAPs object to: That the certainty, the clarity that these ARE texts about the TRA experience is rather murky.

Welcome to our world.

And this flexibility of interpretation is in fact what I would consider one of the few distinctive hallmarks of much of TRA Nation's best creative expressive tradition.

NO easy answers.

Time and time again, in both private and semipublic conversation, I've mentioned that the life of a TRA is punctuated by moments of great ambiguity that some think is meant to be resolved, to overcome, as if somehow we're being 'criminal' in avoiding the 'definitive,' the 'absolute' or the 'overt.'

Such a 'luxury', these.

I'm informed to some degree by the old TV series, The Prisoner, in which the protagonist, whose captors want to designate Number 6, objects and responds definitively:

"I AM NOT A NUMBER! I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."

And though I did not choose the beginning of my life, I do not have to conform or confine myself within some box for the convenience of others.

I laugh with a certain knowing when Hank Hill, from King of the Hill, shouts:

"Dang it, I am sick and tired of everyone's asinine ideas about me. I'm not a redneck, and I'm not some Hollywood jerk. I'm something else entirely. I'm... I'm complicated!"

I and Harlow's Monkey had an opportunity recently to attend a YWCA event called 'Let's Talk,' which was supposed to be a dialogue on race and racism, and for us the event had an odd resonance because the keynote speaker was a fellow TRA who sang about his experiences as an adoptee making his way back to his biological family.

This was particularly interesting to me, given a recent fellow TRA suggesting we should all be listening to another TRA, who shall go nameless, who is also making a career for himself singing sappy songs about his experience and his "yes, massa" paeans perpetuating stereotypes about the countries we're adopted from.

Here, I'm going to veer off and go rogue and say that there are specific elements to their approach of dealing with their experience that I personally wouldn't take if I could help it.

And for now, I'm just going to leave it at that.

In TRA Nation, there are many stages we as artists can go through when forming the cultural institutions within TRA Nation. (Although there are some who also never go through this, as well.)

It reminds me of the old zen axiom: Before zen, a teacup is just a teacup. During zen, a teacup is more than just a teacup. After zen, a teacup is just a teacup.

I think we all go through periods as TRAs where we really have to be overt and write in 'no uncertain terms' about our feelings and our perspective. But, we live lives that must only be written in pencil, as I've said.

Over time, some continue this path and fixate on it with their work and language.

But I think, after a time, TRA artists also return to less 'overt' discussions of the adoptee experience because we come to a sense, either consciously or subconciously, that our art and expressive culture will ALWAYS permeate our work, much in the way Borges declared that a writer always writes in their contemporary style.

Just as we dislike it when Asian American poets hop up and down in their poems shouting 'look at me, look at me, this poem is Asian American because I use the word Asian American every third line'

It lacks artistic subtlety. And there ARE reasons that subtlety is needed. You can say it all overtly, but it doesn't really advance much of our true dialogue, in my opinion.

For my money, TRA artists at our best write and create in ways that you can tell it is our work even when we don't mention the classic motifs at all.


I think quite often of Schroedinger's Cat, that old quantum metaphor. For myself, I guess it resonates with me as much as the old slit screen test of physics where light can be seen as a particle or a wave simply depending on the intention of the researcher.

Within my sense of self as a TRA, I admit residing within a 'flux' status in a world that constantly attempts to codify me as either/or, instead of as a creature of AND.

And I'll be quite clear, for the time being, that I've come to a point in my life where I've reconciled with this and have no intention of choosing 'The Great Convenience.'

This is not an issue of indecisiveness, but a matter of electing not to relinquish what some consider a 'handicap' or a 'liability', but which I've come to realize is more a unique tool and apparatus to appraise the universe in ways many can not.

To you who must live condemned to your lives of certainties, my pity.

There's a classic line from Blade Runner that has since been excised by the latest batch of director's cuts:

"I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody's life, my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?"

Going out on a limb here, I'm willing to suggest that a TRA comes to understand the uncertainties within their life, and with some fortune can come to realize the greater uncertainties within ALL creation more acutely than many others. And with this understanding, emerge with the confidence to strive forward and not be paralyzed by that uncertainty.

So, we look at a question as the figure of Cervantes poses in Man of La Mancha:

"I've been a soldier and a slave. I've seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I've held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning "Why?" I don't think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived."

And we see something others do not.


Personally, I prefer poetry and visual art over 'narrative' for TRA Nation expression because narrative, those essays of our lives, after a while tend to make my eyes glaze over with a particularly strange sense of pity- these narratives often try so hard to pin details down, to sort out whole lives, whole experiences regarding ambiguity and uncertainty.

And yet I find the visual arts and the particular powers of true poetry have unique abilities to capture those open-ended elements of our lives far more powerfully and succinctly. And these are art forms where it is easily clear that even when I'm not talking about a thing, I AM talking about a thing, and when I AM talking about a thing, I am not.

And that's what it's like for me to be a TRA.

Or at least, for now. :)



Anonymous said...

(tra=trans-racial adoptee?)


Why would a TRA's striving to adulthood be any less difficult or ambiguous than anybody else's? Each path in life is unique, yet "same difference" than any other.

Of COURSE you are you.

Who else would you be?

You're an adult: It's your choice.


Lee Herrick said...

2007 has definitely been a dynamic year for Asian Pacific American poetry and for the infusion of new books such as yours, mine, Sun Yung's, and I would add Jennifer Dobbs to the list as well. I am in Berkeley at the moment, upstairs in a Mediterranean cafe, having coffee for a panel at the Berkeley Art Museum on the very idea of Asian American identity/Asian American adoption of the arts. As more good panels like this are formed, the voice(s) of the poetry should continue to echo. I'll be talking about notions of time, geography, and the image. It's beautiful in Berkeley today, by the way. 80 and sunny.