The Things We Carry…on the death of Steve Jobs

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It was from my adoptee friends on facebook that I learned about the death of Steve Jobs. He was one of them, an adult adoptee.

He was the creator of the tiny device, this computer in my hand, on which I am drafting this post.

We heard recently that his father, Abdulfattah Jandali, reached out to him saying he regretted the adoption. It appears that they never did meet.  I, and maybe many other people, concluded from this that Steve Jobs had no relationship with his family of origin.  This was not so.

Jobs was born to Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali who were not married to each other at the time. His mother was an American of Swiss and German descent and his father was Syrian. She was a graduate student and the first member of her family to attend university.

The two did marry 10 months later and, in 1957, two years after their first child’s birth, they had a daughter who they named Mona.

Joanne Schieble and Jandali divorced in 1962.  Joanne remarried and her daughter took her step-father’s name, Simpson.

Mona Simpson grew up to be a novelist. Her first book, “Anywhere But Here” is dedicated to “my mother and my brother, Steve.”  She invited Jobs to the book launch in 1987 and met him for the first time. He was 27.

The two forged a relationship. He regularly visited her in Manhattan.  From Mona Simpson, Jobs learned more details about their parents. He met his mother and invited her to attend events.

Simpson said “My brother and I are very close, I admire him enormously.”

Jobs said “We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”

Meeting Simpson and learning how similar they were, had a major effect on Jobs. Steve Lohr of the New York Times wrote “The effect of all this on Jobs seems to be a certain sense of calming fatalism — less urgency to control his immediate environment and a greater trust that life’s outcomes are, to a certain degree, wired in the genes.”  Prior to this, Jobs had been a firm believer that most of his character had been formed from his experiences, not his family of origin.

We have all had that awakening, those of us who have met the loved ones separated from us by adoption.  I used to believe in tabula rasa too until I met my son.  He is a lot like me.  It helps me to understand.

So we are thinking about Steve Jobs today as we all carry our Apple devices, many of us now using them to communicate with the people we thought we might never meet.  We are sad about his passing.  In some ways we believe he understood our journeys and the things we carry in our hearts.

And, oh yes, Mona Simpson, she was married to a television writer and producer named Richard Appel in 1993.  Appel, a writer for The Simpsons, used his wife’s name for Homer Simpson’s mother,

I think I am going to go and watch Toy Story.  A film that the Disney Studios originally rejected until Steve Jobs got involved with Pixar.

“…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do….”
Steve Jobs

Written on my iPod touch.




A Writing ReTweet

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I can take no credit for what follows but I thought it was so good, I am passing it along to the writers, readers and students of life in the audience. It was written by Steven Heighton. He is the author of twelve books, including … the novel Every Lost Country (May 2010) and the poetry collection Patient Frame (April 2010). With this post, Heighton concluded his week long guest editorship of The Afterword…[the Twittering arm of The National Post.]

The post followed up on a series of “memos to myself” that The New Quarterly, a Canadian literary magazine, recently asked writers to produce  – memos the writer would relay back through time to his or her younger self, starting out in the craft.

Here is his post:

1 Could anyone else have written this thing? If Yes, start again.

2 Novelty is nothing more than a fresh combining.

3 If nothing is new under the sun, nothing is old either. Time cycles back. The ode, the epithalamion, the epistolary novel—all can be made fresh again in the right hands.

4 In the long run, curiosity and stamina trump talent.

5 What makes a period of intense creativity a joy: the way it integrates an adult’s productive power with the playful oblivion of a child.

6 Don’t feel discouraged when you find yourself falling out with your earlier work. Dissatisfaction is the price of improvement.

7 Improvement is not just a matter of amassing technique. Coming through a hard time, transcending a grief or an addiction—these can clarify and deepen your vision, while also improving your prose style by teaching you to focus on the significant and to exclude mere filigree.

8 Be wary of the “respectability” that comes with even modest success. The respectable lose their yen for transcendence and grow obsessed with fortressing a social position—two changes that contaminate the creative sourcewaters.

9 Never generalize. The world beyond the mind consists of nothing but exceptions.

10 Complicate it, complicate it. Truth is in the nuances.

11 Then simplify in the later drafts to drive the complexity underground, like a textual subconscious.

12 Because you want your work to have a teeming subconscious. In your early drafts, write everything that occurs to you, then cut ferociously. The material you cut—the rich or jagged silences you create—are the textual subconscious.

13 Or think of those editorial gaps as synapses that the good reader bridges with sparks of insight, helping to turn a now-collaborative work into a brightly firing circuit of experience and understanding.

14 There’s nothing less enjoyable than writing well, because it means excising the superfluous, self-indulgent matter that was the most pleasing to write.

15 Corollary: Learn to savour the violent, vandal delights of X-ing out and hacking away those primping passages.

16 The problem with poeticized novels is that they aim for beauty without truth—the reek of the real—and beauty without truth is kitsch.

17 Solemn, earnest overwriting feels like overwriting. Overwriting leavened by humour (think Lolita) and textual synapses (see 13, above) is a delight.

18 Good writing, to paraphrase Sir Ralph Richardson, is overwriting and getting away with it.

19 Good writing is underwriting and getting away with it.

20 The main virtue of overwriting is that nobody overwrites like anybody else. The surest way to sound generic and nondescript is to write too cautiously, to follow the rules at all times, to avoid affronting canons of taste. Writers writing ebulliently and extravagantly will sooner or later do it in their own way.

21 What makes the majority snicker now may be what makes the work last in the long run.

22 Don’t confuse story and plot. Story is narrative impelled by character. Thus it emerges from inside the material of your fiction. Plot is a dramatic contrivance deployed to entertain or to illustrate a theme. Plot is imposed on the material from the outside, and everything else in the work—character, detail, language, etc.—is subordinated to it.

23 If fiction writers gamble when they create main characters who are difficult to like, then they cheat when they concoct characters who, unlike you and me, are wholly sympathetic.

24 The writing life, like life in general, has a sacramental and a secretarial side. As years pass and duties accrue, the secretarial, clerical mode can grow like a lymphoma and start to squeeze life from the sacramental.

25 So learn to be irresponsible when necessary—without guilt. Let bills breed in unmarked drawers, let the inbox throng and fester. Lend yourself wholly to the momentum when inspiration insists; take care of marginal things in their own time.

26 If, as the psychologist Stephen Kosslyn has said, the mind is what the brain does, the story or poem is what the words do.

27 The dualism of our culture inclines us to see style and content—like mind and body, or body and soul—as separate. There’s no separation. Art, like life, involves a continuum of contiguities.

28 Don’t squander time and vitality keeping abreast of all possible trends in popular culture. Pop culture is a torrent of vogues, some deeply significant, some not. Keep an ear cocked and an eye prised and mostly what you need of the culture will find its way to you.

29 Refuse to feel ashamed of the autonomous observer that more and more detaches from you and in times of crisis, grief, elation, humiliation etc. hovers to one side coolly jotting notes.

30 There comes a point when an hour of sketching objects from life or learning to play an instrument will make you a better writer than another hour of writing or reading will.

31 Cast a spell and the small flaws don’t matter.

Pretty good advice. Check him out at



Art Therapy

Friday, January 22, 2010

I have this friend who I will call “Abbie.” Abbie is an artist and a writer and a teacher. We used to meet for coffee and talk about stuff. This fall, Abbie decided to go and teach in the far north. I mean the really far north. About 1100 kms north of the 49th parallel kind of north. There are no roads, you have to fly in. That is her picture.

When she was back in the city at Christmas time, she gave me a present. An art therapy kit to help me deal with all the stuff that was going on with my son.

I know I have not really said too much about what happened. Let’s just say it was upsetting and stressful.

The kit consisted of a sketch book and a small wooden model. I spent a lot of time putting that little wooden model in various poses and in various places. It was interesting how this inanimate little guy could reflect mood – happiness, longing, joy, sadness.

Once it was sitting on a table and my daughter knocked it off – on purpose. She said it felt kind of “therapeutic” but not very satisfying. She is pretty frustrated and disappointed with her brother too. She was born after I found him. He was always just her big brother – until his first disappearing act.

When she gave the wooden model to me, Abbie, accurately reading the look that came across my face as I picked it up, said “You could use it as a voodoo doll.” But despite the knocking off the table, we are trying to avoid that.

We talk to it sometimes. Unlike the real thing, it has to stay put and listen. It doesn’t twist words and make accusations. We are hopeful that some of what we are trying to say is getting through.

But back to the “art” part of the art therapy. First off, I have to say – I am not an artist. My efforts are very humble. They are below very humble.

The first picture I drew in the sketch book was of the wooden figure falling through space. My husband said “You have been watching MadMen a lot.” Maybe I was influenced. Anyway for whatever reason the falling man reflects how I feel about my son. I feel he is not going in a very happy direction. Remember we were in reunion for over 18 years before the trouble started. He has held onto this anger for four years. It is like he tries to let it go but it just keeps sucking him back into the pit.

On the same page with the falling man I drew the wooden figure in a crib kicking it’s legs and arms like a baby. I called the whole thing Falling Baby – Falling Man.

The next picture I drew I called Walking Away. The little wooden model is looking very sad walking through a door that is very church-like. Hmmmm. Maybe it’s him, maybe it’s me. The drawings don’t reproduce very well or I’d put them in the post.

This little model helped to draw the human body in proportion – always a great challenge for me. Apparently, that is the purpose of these little wooden models. I didn’t know that. When Abbie gave it me, I told her I had a larger wooden model that I bought at IKEA more or less as decoration. Abbie said, “Good. You can do mother and child.” Haven’t done that yet. Maybe I should put the two of them in a room and let them work (or duke) it out.

The first few drawings, well they were good (I mean good to do, not good in the artistic sense) but more intellectual than emotional. They were OK. And so because my drawing skills are virtually non-existent. I started taking photographs.

Then, one day, I took this photograph on the left. The wooden model seen through the distortion of water. It spoke to me. The heaviness the figure has taken on. The bowed head. The lack of symmetry. How the parts don’t match anymore. How the figure is almost drowning, almost totally under water.

It could be me. It could be him.

It’s called – Adoption. I’m trying to turn it into a painting.

I won’t say anything else.



The Canadian Blog Awards

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I was cruising the blogosphere and discovered there is something called the Canadian Blog Awards.

On their site they gave a shout out to the Canadian Feminist Blog Awards for originality. Here is TCFBA’s YouTube video.

Damn those feminists – they get full marks for creativity.

And other topics – Writing

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ImageChef.comWhen I started this blog I called it Unsigned Masterpiece – A blog about adoption and other topics because it was my intention to write about other things too. As I am sure many other adoption bloggers will testify, adoption has this tendency to take over, to scream for attention. That is probably as it should be because the voices of adoptees and first mothers were not heard for a long time. However, so far my Oprah’s Favourite Things (Sorry spellcheck I just have to put that “u” in there. Canadian, you know.) is really my only non-adoption piece.

One of the other topics I wanted to write about was writing itself. I am a lawyer and have written, written, written, letters, reports, pleadings and affidavits, for many years. About 5 years ago I decided to try my hand at creative writing. It hasn’t gone too badly. I’ve won a couple of prizes and been short-listed for some others. I’ve had a play produced. I can truly say taking my first “Introduction to Creative Writing” class changed my life. I’ve met many wonderful, talented people and made many new friends. The published and, as a mystery writer I know says, the pre-published.

People say to me sometimes “Why are there so many lawyers who want to be writers?” I always reply that although people might not realize it, law is a very creative profession. Lawyers are story tellers.

We will pause here for the old joke – Only the innocent need lawyers, the guilty can lie for themselves.

The things that I like about law are the same things I like about creative writing. Putting the puzzle together as you craft the story, creating a cast of characters. I was somewhat daunted at first by the idea that “the facts” had to come out of your own head.

I will go to my grave still learning how to be a better writer. To my mind, that is something in writing’s favour.

I was always tempted to set up a sub site on this blog for writing topics and call it “Unpublished Manuscript” because I’ve never been published.

I would write about writing and …

How frustrating it can be. Sometimes so easy, sometimes soooo hard.

How sometimes I want to cry out, “Stop me before I revise again!”

How fleeting an idea can be if you don’t write it down.

How things appear in your writing that tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know.

One example of that for me is the small town where I spent three years of my misspent youth. I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough back then. But what do I write about a lot of the time? Whose voices appear in my work? The people and the places from that small town even though I have lived most of my life in a very large city. Clearly, that town had a big impact on me.

Interestingly, adoption has not appeared in my fiction until just recently. I’m not sure why that is. Too close to the bone perhaps. Maybe blogging has helped to free me up. But I notice that when I write about adoption I still keep my distance a bit. I’m trying to get over that.

Last week, in the middle of all the pain and tears of my friend’s death, came a letter from a literary magazine, saying they want to accept a story of mine for publication. My husband turned his eyes skyward and said thank you to my friend. I was thinking the same thing.

Maybe now I have friends in high places.

How ironic that something I didn’t want so much and something I did want so much happened in the same week.

I sent a email out to my writing group to tell them the news. I’d already emailed to beg off reading because of my friend’s death. One of them wrote back and said “Laughter and tears together, that is life.”

And I think he is right. That is life and recording all that is writing.