Two years ago, I took the ferry from Jack London Square into San Francisco with some friends. Once we de-boarded the ship, somewhere along the Embarcadero, we came across an artisan selling pieces of wood with quotes burned into the sides. Each of us bought the wood-burned wisdom that spoke to us in that specific moment. The one I chose had a question from Mary Oliver (1992): “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (p. 94). Even though I haven’t read any other poem by Mary Oliver, her question struck me for the simple fact that I didn’t know. For the first time in my life, I felt adrift, and beyond that, an extreme pull towards something different from the incredibly precious life I’ve lived – a pull towards the wild.
I’ve had other strong pulls in my lifetime, some of which I’ve ignored out of fear, suffering, or a willful lack of interest. I have faith in humanity, and I have faith in beauty. I’m ready to be more wild with my life and fully embrace the things that give it meaning: creativity, freedom of expression, deep thought, and healing, which has led me to the Transformative Studies Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. This is how I began my Autobiographical Statement for the TSD program when I applied. What I didn’t realize was that while I was ready to fully embrace my life, that also meant fully embracing, or “surrendering” to the feelings of being adrift, or I wouldn’t know what it really means to be wild. Because I am obsessive and understand myself better through writing and objects, I got this journal for Christmas, and just the other day wrote: I had thought originally that there was a dichotomy between the precious and the wild in me, but Mary Oliver didn’t write: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild or precious life?” She wrote: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Oliver, 1992, p. 94). This month, I am learning that being wild brings out the preciousness in me.
Since receiving my dual Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry from St. Mary’s College of California, I’ve found it difficult to hold on to things in a meaningful way. I didn’t realize at the time I was doing so, but by grasping onto the people who came into my life with such force-and sometimes desperation-and making their world my own, I lost my voice again somewhere along the way, something I had thought would never happen after my experiences with racial and institutionalized trauma as an undergraduate student. It is kind of funny, for when I finally decided to focus on my writing for the first time in my life by choosing to apply to MFA programs instead of more traditional literature, philosophy, or cultural studies ones, I made that choice because I still felt betrayed and mistrustful of academia, and I also feared if I didn’t, my talent for writing would leave me, and I would be voiceless – in essence, annihilated – and that has been a pervading fear in my life. My nonfiction mentor, Marilyn Abildskov, once told me that my writing contains “an intense longing for ecstasy and annihilation,” and I agree; I exist in that beautiful, yet controlled, tension between extremes: the ecstasy and annihilation, questions and answers, the human and the divine, the wild and precious, and this, too, comes from being an adoptee. In Renaldo Maduro’s (1985) study “Abandonment and Deintegration of the Primary Self”, he says:
During the process of deintegration (or “unpacking the self”) the baby mind:
– Would not depend on anyone else in a close way. This includes the perfectionist
need to do everything by herself without help from others.
– Would feel narcissistic depletion, emptiness inside with intense longing. This
state leads to severe distress, and to harmful interference with a basic loving
investment in one’s own body image and the development of object relations.
– Would substitute things for people, especially when they offered comfort, safety,
In her dissertation, Remembering Loss: The Cultural Politics of Overseas Korean Adoption, Eleana Kim’s (2007) goal is:
To draw attention to the deep ambivalence that characterizes many adoptee narratives. This is an ambivalence that allows one to say with confidence and without contradiction that one is happy to have been adopted, that one cannot imagine a different or more loving family, but also that these joys coexist with a sense of loss and sadness for people, places and experiences barely remembered or never known. . .adoptees live within the dialectic of loss and gain, and it is this dialectic. . .that produces the ambiguous figure of the transnational adoptee. Her split temporality and shape-shifting transnationality encompasses the complexities and contradictions of the global – at once privileged and subaltern.
When I came to this program, I had thought that I was done with adoption psychology and creative writing, as I had thought I was done with philosophy and academia when I decided to get an MFA in Creative Writing, but I think I’m done with proclaiming myself “done” with anything now as I move into a fuller understanding of what it means to be a whole person.
Kim, E. J. (2007). Remembering loss: The cultural politics of overseas Korean adoption (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). New York University, NY.
Maduro, R. (1985). Abandonment and deintegration of the primary self. Chiron, (pp. 131-156).
Oliver, M. (1992). The summer day. In New and selected poems (p. 94). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
* NOTE: This Scholarly Personal Narrative was written as part of a co-presentation with my colleague, Jessica Spring, entitled “Adoptee Ways of Knowing: The Role of Scholarly Personal Narrative in Transformative Inquiry,” and presented at the Transformative Studies Department Mini-Conference in Pacifica, CA on January 22, 2018.
(Photo Credit for the labyrinth in Pacifica: Jessica Spring)