memoir, adoption
Skip to content

What we can learn from resilient (fictional) adoptees

by Laura on May 8th, 2013

It’s literary criticism mixed with psychological analysis today. Therapist/writer Corie Skolnick and I have been talking about adoption fog in adoptees, first families and adoptive parents–trying to understand where the fog comes from and how to emerge from it.

In yesterday’s conversation, we learned an important lesson:

The Root of Reunion Resistance = FEAR

I’m just an armchair blogger psychologist, but I want to understand more about how adoptees can learn to cope with their loss, and thrive in spite of it.

Imagination and creativity can be effective outlets for adoptees

Laura – We’ve been talking about how fear is the primary reason that people are resistant to change; resistant to adoption reunion. But today I want to get back to the heart of the matter: the adoptee, who is (or at least should be) at the center of all of this. I want to look at how you portrayed adoption fog in your novel, ORFAN.

The Jimmy Deane (JD for short) character in ORFAN is what you’ve called the quintessential resilient adoptee. JD’s adoption fog runs deep, but luckily, he has several creative and artistic outlets for his grief and loss. And, he has quite an active imagination. Some might call it psychosis, but that’s a discussion for another day.

It’s clear that JD’s art and music serve not just as coping mechanisms, but as saving grace for survival and eventually, healing.

Psychology analyst Linda Carter talks a lot about imagination in psychology. She was interested in mother/infant relationships, attachment, the intersection of art and analytics … and my personal favorite: Jungian psychology.

Can you talk a little bit more about Carter and imagination as a coping mechanism?

Corie — Thank you so much for asking this question! Nobody ever asks me about the literary or psychological influences in ORFAN!

Yes, I did have some lofty aspirations for ORFAN as a “psychological literary work of fiction.” I spent a lot of time, a LOT of time, trying to weave amusing allusions to great literary works into a kind of modern Dickensian social critique with a heavy emphasis on the psychological principles known about the injuries related to familial disruption.

So, yeah… exactly what you said… “mother/infant relationships, attachment, the intersection of art and analytics … and my personal favorite: Jungian psychology.”

Laura – Adoptees and orphans show up all over classic literature. Even orphaned Jane Eyre lived with her cruel aunt and cousins. I’m loathe to raise my blood pressure go there, but even popular books have adoptees, such as I’m-effed-up-because-I’m-adopted Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades series.

Definitely, ORFAN is much, much more nuanced and creative than EL James’ simplistic heavy-handedness. I want to understand more about the psychological influences of your writing.

Orphan stories in classic literature

Corie – Except, I wasn’t thinking so much about Jung as I was Freud.

Did you know that Sigmund Freud’s favorite novel was said to be Dickens’ David Copperfield?–certainly one of the most important “orphan” stories in all of literature.

Freud said that he loved Dickens’ eighth novel because

The characters are individualized; they are sinful without being abominable.

And, of course this was Dickens’ most autobiographical work and isn’t David Copperfield practically synonymous with the word “orphan”? The whole “sinful without being abominable” thing was definitely something I strived for in the characterizations in ORFAN. That’s not even subtle is it?

It’s a little embarrassing to admit this now, but, I set out to write THE twenty-first century’s “orphan” story. When ORFAN first came out, the publisher booked me to do a lot of talks and readings for creative writing programs at colleges and universities. Guess what? Nobody got those hard polished references, and I mean nobody, not even the grad students from Comparative Literature programs. So I took to calling that talk, “What a Big Effing Waste of Time That Was!”

So much for the intersection of art and analytics, at least as far as my little story goes.

People may not understand the literary references, but most people do key into the fundamental truth that art can save us. Who cares in the end if people know that T.S. Eliot was a sad little boy who spent his sickly, sad childhood reading Mark Twain? (By the way, the five “books” in ORFAN roughly parallel the five “books” in Eliot’s epic poem, The Wasteland, which in turn borrowed stylistically from some of Dickens’ quirkier dialogue, but, oh well. Just fyi.)

The important lesson I think, is that art is a completely necessary element in a sane and civilized society and that its power is curative even to one as bereft as our young Jimmy Deane. Carter [JD’s adoptive father] unknowingly left JD the means to his psychological survival by leaving behind his drums and his love of music and the silly poster of James Dean on the back of Jimmy’s bedroom door.

Susie [JD’s adoptive mother] left her own legacy in her love of reading and the knowledge of the library. A child with an imagination can survive almost anything. That’s a very simple truth and THAT I think most readers understand at a very intuitive even personal level.

But, you know something? I have NO idea who Linda Carter is. I thought Linda Carter was Wonder Woman… so, what do I know?

Laura – Ahhhh … I may have just accidentally out psych’ed the psychology instructor. But, thanks so much to Corie for all of her incredible insight. I’m sure we’ll see more of her when her work-in-progress, America’s Most Wanted comes out later this year (hint, hint Corie).

*  *  *  *  *

If you missed any of our Adoption Fog Series check them out here …

Corie’s amazing book, ORFAN, is available on Amazon. Buy it today!

About Corie Skolnick – Born in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised on Chicago’s south side, Corie Skolnick has lived her entire adult life in Southern California. She is a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a “sometimes” university psychology instructor.

image from, KROMKRATHOG

  1. And now I'm wishing I could trade that Economics degree for an English one. I am even more impressed at all that you wove into Orfan.

    Know what? My family and I watched Life of Pi this week. I think it has a lot in common with Orfan.

    • Laura permalink

      Ahh, I'll have to watch it! Yes, and Corie is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Now that I know about all those literary references, I'm going to have to re-read Orfan!

  2. Nobody getting your references is no reflection on you but rather a reflection on education or people's literary tastes today -dumbing down of everything is so prevalent. Thanks for mentioning Christian Grey is an adoptee – I had no idea and haven't read the books.

    You might be interestd in my latest post coming out today on Performing Adoption in which I mention reunion and it's difficulties in a new take I believe.

    • Von,
      Thanks for the heads-up about Performing Adoption — I love this:
      "The adoptee must take on the role of adoptee and act out the adoption story as it has been laid down for many generations. For those adoptees involved in activism – trying to change laws, to achieve social justice, to rewrite the role of adoptee in order for all adoptees to find their voices, it is a hard road, always arduous and it will have no end."
      And, if you haven't read Fifty Shades, don't worry … you're not missing much at all!

    • Hey, Von, thanks for your comments in this series. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back. I've been in Africa! I will definitely check out your work when I can come up for some air, soon.

  3. Story of my life! Imagination and creativity are two HUGE coping mechanisms and have helped me to survive and thrive.

  4. Wow, Laura, you are cool and smart! Speaking of Jungian psychology, I had a Jungian therapist once who was the only one who actually validated to me that the separation of mother and child is felt in the whole body and psyche, even though we have no memory of — our body and mind remember in a different way.

    Very fascinating. Learning to play the piano as an adult has helped me to work through so many issues in my life. Playing my violin as a child also. Writing about adoption equals sanity for me. Thanks for the awesome post! You and Corie make an awesome team. Got both your books on my list to read after The Child Catchers.

    • Laura permalink

      Wow. That is so interesting that the Jungian therapist "got it" and I really wonder how much experience the therapist actually had with adoption trauma.

      I totally agree that writing about adoption is such a great way to process and share and help others, which equals sanity!

    • Sis

      You are a sterling example of an artist using their art to cope. I look forward to your "review".

  5. Lori, thanks for the comparison to Life Of Pi. I loved that book. And, your observation that there are parallels is an astute one. Most people don't catch the notion of "fable" anymore. I think that's why they spelled it out in the movie. It was much more subtle in the book I think. BTW, I am a huge fan of your writing, too. So right back at you!

  6. Common Connor permalink

    I had such a job and I even traveled for a while, but then my health deteriorated due to my trips and I had to change jobs to a calmer one. I was not too upset because I didn’t like my work very much, but still, it was not a very pleasant feeling. The search for a new job took only a couple of days, because I had a good resume from… and quite good skills. I told about my condition to a new employer and this did not become a problem, on the contrary, they supported and welcomed me at a new place.

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

CommentLuv badge

Notify via Email Only if someone replies to My Comment