Breaking the structure of memoir...

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Rachel Udin

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I have a reason for it, but I'm not quite sure the best way around it... so I'll pitch the problem and some ideas. (probably will be long winded. You can skip to the too long, didn't read version.

Problem: (edited for clarity, per comment about confusion.)
In the adoption community there are pretty much 4 factions. The Adoptive Parents (at the top), the adopted People, the foster care system and the families of origin. While there is a little overlap on their opinions (as in the range of opinions out there), none of them particularly see eye to eye on all of the issues surrounding adoption. This is particularly poignant and obvious looking at the memoirs which are written and the written reactions to them. (With families of origin and foster care outside of the clinical writing still struggling to get published.)

The adoptive parent memoirs are slapped on usually with happy chubby babies, usually smiling in Western style clothes and then san-serif font. The content usually is about how that mother adopted, but it only tells up to just after the adoption, and promises about how well-adjusted this child will be. This image as a whole isn't too destructive, but when repeated by publishers again and again it pretty much tells the story that Adopted people are either happy or messed up and they stay children forever. Can't they wait just a little longer.. I'd love to see one with a mother writing about her child in that child's teens, or written together...

Despite this, I can't agree with (some) of the adopted people who review those memoirs all upset and talk about anti-adoption issues. It's not that anti-adoption isn't a valid viewpoint as pro-adoption, it's that it's the wrong place to raise such issues. The in-fighting really doesn't help anyone...

On the other side you have Adopted People memoirs which always has ghosts, disembodied people, and empty roads on the cover. The contents are usually written strictly in such a way it only reaches other adopted people, but only for their belief system. This causes *some* of the adoptive parents (particularly the new ones and the prospective ones) to throw down the slur, "Angry adoptee" because the memoir doesn't paint a "happy" picture like the Adoptive parent memoirs, which, to me, are not complete yet because it should go well into teenage years. Angry adoptee (as in "evil" adoptee) is thrown and then a war breaks out in the comments. (I have to also sigh at this behavior)

I probably won't win since anything negative I write about my family or adoption will make me an "angry" adoptee. ("evil") This is because people inevitably usually project onto the adopted person their feelings of anxiety about their own child. (as an adoptive parent who was also a psychologist told me.) But I don't think it hurts to try and to challenge those kinds of thoughts within the memoir proper.

In my eyes both fail (and I really do want the other two legs of the adoption community to have enough power and voice to catch up.) They fail because they do not get to include the outside audience because adoption is so individual, and so permeating that to understand an individual opinion, one needs a sense of time and history of adoption itself. Because I've found that it does divide that way and I'd like to honor those voices to give context to my own. Also fails because I think some of those memoirs are written too early. I don't hate the memoirs written, but I'm trying to aim higher.

Upside, I did see one where a mother and daughter wrote it together... though it still doesn't get the two other sides. I can't do anything like that due to extenuating circumstances... so I hope that means there is a new wave coming... but until that time I'd like to attempt to bridge the gap a little. Because I find the extreme opinions and immature behavior just because someone has a different opinion ridiculous... (I want common language ground established, so better things that the community as a whole does agree with can be accomplished.)

tl;dr There is a lot of disagreement in the adoption community, but I'd like to write a memoir that gets past that and bridges the gap inside and outside of the community, which so far, despite the fact I am part of the community, I have to say we've mostly failed to do (as evidenced by the first movement in social change--the ability to unite, disagree, but move forward)

***
Solutions:
I'd like to do it better and try to cater to all sides. Not to speak for the community, but kinda a perspective on the community in a way that invites people inside. But to do that I think I need to break the back of memoir's structure.

The problem with memoir is by its nature it shows only one singular POV, but I'd like to show outside and address outside of my POV, so I can't really use only my life stories to do that.

One structure I was thinking about was to put essays in between the life stories. The life stories would be an anchor, but never tell any opinions. The essays would be opinions, guides, what I learned, the history of adoption, opinions outside of my own and give a frame to the memoir because the thing is that if I focus on my life story only, then the ability to understand it is lost because I come from a specific time frame in adoption and to me, this is what the adopted people memoirs failed to do--give their time frame and context for their individualism. Downside is that it's still essays... and that's not memoir.

Another option is to try to pull as much from my life to make these arguments, but I think that kinda defeats the purpose of "put you in my shoes" which is the cornerstone of memoir.

I do know that I want to structure the memoir so that people can see what it might feel like to be adopted from my own perspective. Which means doing something like showing how I gained information and what I thought I knew changed and at least have people understand the level of frustration felt at the time, even if they don't agree with it.

tl;dr:
1. Insert essays between the life story. (Downside: insertion of essays)
2. Adjust the life story to include the opinions of those essays. (downside: soapbox)
3. Better ideas?

Objective: Make the people at least understand for those who are outside of adoption what it *might* be like to be adopted from my own perspective. i.e. invite them in.

Thoughts?
 
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Siri Kirpal

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Sounds like you've got a worthy project in mind.

I'm currently reading an assortment of memoirs so as to get a broader comparison base for the memoir I'm shopping. Believe me, memoirs come in all kinds of formats. Personally, I like your idea of inserting essays in between the stories. That way you can have your opinions, history, etc, without soapboxing the stories.

Dani Shapiro inserts lengthy dictionary definitions as short chapters in between the stories of Devotion, which I am currently reading.

An top NY editor I've hired to help me with the ms and proposal wants me to put more commentary in my memoir. So, your second idea might work too.

One thing to keep in mind: Memoirs are easiest to sell if you have some sort of platform (fan base or readership). If you haven't done so already, you might want to start blogging about adoption as you've experienced it or write about it on facebook or start a twitter feed. Those things can help sell books of this type.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

frimble3

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Maybe you want 'oral history' instead of 'memoir'? People telling their own stories, (and you telling your stories) supported by your essays to sort of tie the stories together, and point out their significance?
That would let you move around and address different aspects, without being tied to your own memoirs.
Have you read any of Studs Terkel's books? (Or Barry Broadfoot, the Canadian equivalent)
 

GrouchPotato

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I found your description of the various adoption groups to be confusing but that might also offer an answer to your question: that you give each of these groups a voice in your book, to explain their particular position and experience.

I'd find that interesting. Probably more interesting, in fact, than a single voice telling me what you believe others think and experience.

Then again, I'm an anecdote addict, so this idea might not fit your audience.

As it happens I have a few friends who were adopted. That is all I know on the subject; they don't really talk about it. One friend just revealed that she's been contacted by the daughter she gave up at birth. She was adopted herself. It makes me feel a little dizzy.
 

Rachel Udin

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Thanks for the feedback!

There have been compiled versions of the adoption, but nothing to bridge them, and usually a bias in what essays are pulled...

I'll probably go with the essays, since I'm aiming for both context and understanding of my opinions with the memoir. Plus I have experience talking to adoptive parents. (I'm working on the other two sides, foster and family of origin... but through a history of being silenced, it's a bit difficult.) Probably will have a few citations to help too.

Again, thank you.
 

Blarg

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If you had interviews with different types of people which make clear their viewpoints, you wouldn't have to intrude your author's opinion into a recapitulation of what those opinions (at least in your viewpoint) are. This would probably sound more authentic and fair, and be more lively than reading your essays about other people's viewpoints. Direct from the horse's mouth, so to speak, has a verisimilitude and vigor that can't be imitated and likely cannot be bettered.

It would require doing the leg work to interview those people, ideally several representatives of each of what you believe to be the major viewpoints on the issues, so as to get a workably representative cross-section of each viewpoint that doesn't come across as tendentious and cannot too easily be accused of being tendentious.

If anything, a wonderful effect is created by letting people speak for themselves. As the editor, you will still be choosing the arrangement and selection of what they say, so there is every possibility to build, fairly or unfairly, toward an impression or resonance of what their collective ideas are all about ... where they seem to sing together and where they drift off oddly and leave questions and internal conflicts unresolved. Good oral historians often develop a cumulative effect this way, without seeming to exhibit an overt hand in shaping fact or drama.
 
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