Since last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult intercountry adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birth parents or first/birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to others who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup; it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.
I’m bummed to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On,Adapted, and Born In June Raised in April. The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.
I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.
Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on Soundcloud
Mrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord snaked across the shaggy green carpet to a stereo where she stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s home. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was a white, 30-something year old woman. She had short brown hair in a long pixie style, a pretty face, and was always dressed in jeans and a nice top. Mrs. Guinn was married to an officer in the Air Force. I remember her as having a quiet and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught had an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and smelled good. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the den. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.
“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four notes of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music accelerated, and I was completely enraptured, magically swept away. The pulse of the bass vibrated in my chest. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me. I discovered I had a love for classical music. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals. It was certainly a treat.
Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.
Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. It was very hard to say goodbye, and I remember having a hard time sleeping the night before my last lesson. I probably shed a few tears, too.
My mom found a new teacher, and I began taking lessons from Mrs. Ellis, whom I didn’t like very much. The music she gave me to play was “old” and not very fun. Mrs. Ellis was older than Mrs. Guinn and had short, reddish hair and a southern drawl. I didn’t feel the same connection with her as I had with Mrs. Guinn and dreaded going to my lessons where very often, her daughter, about my age, invited me to play while I waited for the kid’s lesson before me to end. She had what seemed like a million trophies from beauty pageants stacked in her room, and I remember jumping on the trampoline with her in the backyard. I felt awkward next to her, as she seemed so accomplished for a kid our age. Eventually, I moved on and studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a colorful character. He had a piano studio behind his house and a dachshund named Angie. Mr. Buckner’s gray hair was always disheveled and seemed to stand on end to one side. I began every lesson with major and minor scales to warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. Mr. Buckner was bit of a stout man with a laugh that welled up from his belly, which was quite infectious. A couple of times, I caught Mr. Buckner sleeping while I played. His snores always gave him away.
I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single, damn math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory and loathed sight singing, but loved composition and piano literature. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sing, it’s just that I had never been taught sight singing, and it terrified me, especially when made to sight sing in front of all my peers. That was a very joyless experience. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year when it was expected to perform a solo recital of full repertoire. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces, and my recital loomed near. I just sat there unable to say a thing. No doubt, part of her concern was that a poor performance would reflect badly on her. She said that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better. She was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot, except there was much less pressure when you were having fun, for God’s sake.
I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating, arduous endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. The freedom from judgment or making mistakes, the connection to the music; it was magical. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden. Adrenaline rendered me helpless, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was performing the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with a live orchestra. Connection to other musicians performing together was something I had never experienced. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen, paralyzed. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza. Instead of enjoying such a performance, I was relieved when it was over. My legs were so shaky afterwards, I could barely stand.
After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. The trauma of it all prevented me. I deeply regret that now. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived at our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were sadly more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.
I have now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. When we returned to California in 2016, my husband tried to talk me into selling it because all the homes in California are so much smaller! It was more challenging to find an “affordable” (there are no affordable homes in California) home that would accommodate its size. First of all, I silently fumed that he’d ask such a thing that’s so important to me, and second I refused to budge. We were not going to sell my baby grand piano! And so it was and is and will ever be.
Every once in awhile, I sit down to play when things are quiet and I can get away with it. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.
I trained in piano for many, many years. I wish that I’d continued to play, but there was a part of me that felt my skills were inadequate, so I didn’t play for years. When I decided to study music therapy in 2006, that passion for music rushed back. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. Sometimes, it’s hard to play because I inevitably begin to compare my current level of skill to that of when I played daily for very long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.
So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. It always makes me happy to listen to this beautiful piece of music.
To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:
Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website. Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.
If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy. Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds.
Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.
Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.
When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.
Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.
I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.
It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.
I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.
I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.
I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.
I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search.Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.
I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.
2016 is quickly coming to a close, and what a year it has been! We arrived in southern California late Friday afternoon where we’ll take up residence indefinitely 🙂 It’s rainy and cool in Seal Beach, not so typical So Cal weather, but the rain is much needed considering the drought. Our daughter was born in Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, but was raised primarily in Chandler, Arizona, where we lived for just over thirteen years. As we departed Phoenix, I thought about what we were leaving behind- somany positive and significant milestones were achieved while we lived in Arizona. I’ll miss Chandler very much, our friends and my old stomping grounds – Tumbleweed Recreation Center where I worked out with a very friendly and lovely group of women and fitness instructors, Pomegranate Cafe, my favorite vegan restaurant, Peixoto Coffee, where I enjoyed many a seasonal coffee special, and Chandler Whole Foods because the employees were so darn friendly. I’ll miss the less jammed freeways for sure. Change is scary, too. Moving to a new city and finding the right job and home is certainly anxiety provoking. We’re looking at homes in a region of So Cal that we’ve never lived before, but have close friends in nearby Los Alamitos. Home prices are outrageous. Nevertheless, the best part of our move is being closer to our daughter, who’s attending college here. As I’m writing this post, we’re eating cookie dough in bed and watching old episodes of Modern Family, one of our favorites!
The last few weeks prior to leaving AZ were hugely chaotic. I was writing quite a bit and trying to organize our house for the moving crew. I’ve hardly had time to process our departure. I spent a weekend in Louisville/Middletown Kentucky where I visited with Carmen Faulkenberg Seitz, another adoptee from Taiwan. Carmen and her husband, Courtney, were beyond hospitable, and Kentucky was absolutely beautiful! The fall weather was gorgeous and a welcome change from Arizona’s warmer temps. Carmen and I had so much to share. There’s a connection between adoptees, and maybe even more so adoptees from the same country, that’s undeniable. I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, in Taipei, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the same nun who signed her adoption contract and helped facilitate her adoption. She was able to take a tour through the old orphanage, currently headquarters to the monastery. We were adopted from different orphanages in Taipei, but in one of my mom’s diaries, she wrote about visiting St. Benedict’s. I wondered if she had hoped to adopt a baby there. My parents adopted me from The Family Planning Association of China. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie “Mickey” Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father before he passed away that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement making my adoptive parents Carmen’s godparents. Both our fathers served in World War II and at Kadena AFB in Okinawa where my parents lived when I was adopted.
It was heartbreaking to learn about the difficulties Carmen experienced as a young girl. Her adoptive mother was physically and emotionally abusive often leaving her and her younger brother, a biological son, alone for long periods of time while her father was serving overseas in Korea. She and her brother grew up in Indiana and would leave the house frequently unaccompanied wandering off into the city and asking strangers to take them back home. Carmen said she protected her brother as best she could and assumed care and responsibility for him. Carmen’s brother was never abused. Carmen felt unwanted by her adoptive mother and said she believed it was her father who wanted to adopt her. Unfortunately, Carmen’s history of abuse is not uncommon among intercountry adoptees. I hear stories from other adoptees I connect with who were abused by one or both of their adoptive parents. Carmen, despite such a difficult childhood, is one of the most uplifting and energetic people I’ve ever met.
Carmen and I both have many questions about our adoptions and how our adoptive families crossed paths. We wonder how our dads originally met and what their relationship was like. Did they work together, were they drinking buddies, why didn’t they keep in touch? My dad never mentioned Carmen’s father or any other friends he may have had during his service in the Air Force. Neither of our parents are living, so our questions will probably never be answered. In any case, I’m thrilled to have connected with Carmen and Courtney. We talked about how cool it would be to form a gathering for Taiwanese adoptees one day to connect and share stories. That would really be something.
So, here we are in California. Who knows what the future will bring. We continue to house hunt, hoping to find a home we like and can afford. I continue to send out new apps and resumes. We’ll be spending the holidays in temporary housing, but at least we’re here. I’ll finish writing my book, Beyond Two Worlds, by the end of the year. It’ll be submitted for publication by the end of January 2017 with a release date of Summer 2017. Lots of change on the horizon. It doesn’t feel quite real yet, that we’ve moved to California. It kinda feels like we’re vacationing as we’ve done so many times before in California. I’m sure in time, everything will fall into place as it should be. Until then, I’m gonna do my best to enjoy the ride.
Happy November! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. With the holidays fast approaching, things are amping up. Since my last post, we sold our house and are now in escrow. My husband and I will be moving to California on November 18th where our daughter is attending college. We’ll be renting for a while until we can buy a home somewhere in the Long Beach area.
Instead of packing and organizing for the move, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing. I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on a book, a memoir. I’m thrilled to announce that the title of my book is Beyond Two Worlds, so named after my website. My editor, Allyson, and I have explored a number of different titles for some weeks now, but decided on Beyond Two Worlds because of the special meaning behind the title. The title is symbolic of the difficulties and joys I’ve experienced in accepting who I am as a Taiwanese American adoptee and speaks to the complexity of navigating two cultures and identities, one of which I tried very hard to forget for many years. The story is of my adoption and search and reunion with my birthfamily in Taiwan, by far one of the most meaningful events of my life. Ironically, the reunion with my birthfamily occurred just around the Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) in 2012, and we’re shooting for submitting my manuscript to the publisher around the Lunar New Year next year (end of January 2017). The timing has great significance in more than one way. If everything goes as planned, we hope the book will be out by Summer 2017.
Writing this story has been very special. It began one morning when I was sitting at home, praying. Interestingly, I was feeling like a loser that morning- I had no job, I wasn’t doing anything of much importance, our daughter was off to college, it seemed as though our house would never sell- and I asked God, “what should I be doing?” I was suddenly overtaken with an urgency to start writing, and I haven’t stopped since. The words sprang to life. I believe strongly that this book is inspired by God and by the ties I have with my two sisters in Taiwan. I feel a connection to them that goes deeper than DNA. My sisters have inspired me beyond words. I began writing about five months ago, and I’m currently working on the final chapters.
There is much to do between now and the end of the year. Packing, organizing, moving, and finishing my book. I’ll be posting updates along the way and cannot wait to share my book with you!