Midnight in Paris, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald (and adoption)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I feel like I am living in Paris in the twenties lately.   I was able to score one of the first available rental copies of Woody Allen’s film, *Midnight in Paris.  I watched it about five times before I had to give it back.  Last time I saw the movie, I was in Paris.  My daughter, husband and I went to see it the night before we left for London and she left to come back to Canada.  It was amazing to watch it and then walk out of the cinema and be on the Blvd. Beaumarchais.   It’s a great movie.  It brings back happy memories.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

I think part of the reason it’s so popular is the fact that it is everyone’s dream to time travel.  If I could time travel, it would be back to the twenties and these days, I can say for certain, one of the destinations in my time travelling journey would be Paris in the twenties.

Owen Wilson Midnight in Paris

At the same time as I was watching Midnight in Paris I was also reading a book by Canadian writer, Morley Callaghan, entitled That Summer in Paris.  Someone in my writing group suggested that I read it.  Callaghan met Ernest Hemingway at the Toronto Star in 1923 when he was 19 and Hemingway was 24.  Hemingway believed Callaghan to be  a talented writer and he encouraged him to go to Paris.  Callaghan did go during the summer of 1929, shortly after his marriage and graduation from the University of Toronto law school.  There he met Scott and Zelda and all the other famous American ex-pats.  He and Hemingway became good friends and used to box regularly at the American Club in Paris. He also becomes friendly with Fitzgerald.

The book paints a very interesting portrait of both men.  Scott Fitzgerald appears to be a bundle of insecurities.  Hemingway, too, but for different reasons.

F. Scott Fitzgerald tells Callaghan a story about going to visit Louis Bromfield, an American writer and early environmentalist.   Bromfield came to the door of his chateau wearing his slippers.  According to Fitzgerald, he and Zelda considered this such a sign of disrespect that they never visited Bromfield again.

That Summer

After recounting this story, Callaghan says:

“… I marvel at the little things that shape the relationships of men; only the little things seem to do it.  Not the great matters of principle, or articles of faith, but fancied slights, a little detail acutely observed that is supposed to reveal how things really stand between friends.”

Callaghan goes on to say that years later he met Louis Bromfield and told him the story.  He describes Bromfield’s reaction:

“Wide-eyed, not smiling at all, full of wonder, he explained that he always wore those slippers in his own house when his guest was someone he felt close to.  He had often wondered why [Fitzgerald] had turned against him.”

As the summer of 1929 goes on, Callaghan finds himself in the middle an incident between Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  It happens at the American Club.  This day, Hemingway and Callaghan box with Fitzgerald as timekeeper for the rounds.  Fitzgerald forgets to call time, lets a round go an extra minute and Callaghan ends up knocking Hemingway down. Hemingway thinks Fitzgerald wants to see him humiliated.  There is more to it than this but the relationships never really recover from the incident.  The story gets repeated and embellished.  It becomes very important to Hemingway that people believe he can knock out Callaghan.  He challenges Callaghan to another match.  He writes to Callaghan and wants him to admit Hemingway can knock him out. (Are we still talking about boxing here?)

Callaghan thinks that Hemingway is starting to believe his own publicity, his macho image.  He refuses to make any such admission believing that would just mean he was buying into the mythology.  Callaghan writes back in a joking manner, saying since he has never been knocked out, he cannot do what Hemingway requests.  Isn’t it better, he suggests, that they both believe in their own invincibility.  He says, “For heaven’s sake disarm.”  He never hears from Hemingway again.

It is Callaghan’s musing on the nature of these broken relationships that remind me of adoption or, more particularly, adoption reunions. He says that Hemingway and Fitzgerald appeared to remain nominal friends but “had become very cynical about each other.”  Callaghan is advised by his publisher, Max Perkins, to forget the whole thing.  He was reassured by Perkins that neither Hemingway not Fitzgerald held any grudge against him.  Callaghan comes to realize listening to Perkins was a mistake.

He says near the end of That Summer in Paris:  “Insulted and injured people…find themselves lying awake at night making up little speeches, some of them angry, and the one to whom the little speeches are addressed in the dark never has a chance to answer.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

“… [T]he little things that shape the relationships… Not the great matters of principle, or articles of faith, but fancied slights, a little detail acutely observed that is supposed to reveal how things really stand …”

It seems very much to echo exactly what happens in some adoption reunions to me.  The imagined slights.  The inability to disarm. The misunderstandings, the reluctance/inability to express the hurt.

The walking away like Scott and Zelda insulted by Louis Bromfield and his slippers.

Here is the haunting theme music from Midnight in Paris, where you can see Hemingway and Scott and Zelda come to life.  The song is called, interestingly enough,  Si Tu Vois Ma Mère  (If You See My Mother).  I think you will be hearing a lot of it around Oscar time.

*January 3, 2011

I came across this:  A Cultural Cheat Sheet for Midnight in Paris.  It tells you all about the real people portrayed in the movie and some of the locations.

*January 9, 2012

Another bit about MIP.  An interview with the actor who played Ernest Hemingway.




Am Writing

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Unsigned Masterpiece Post 

December 20th

UM Highlights – Nine Favourite Posts


Adoption and NaBloPoMo – Day One

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blogger#432 NaBloPoMo

There have been a few times in my life when I have asked myself “How do I get myself into these things?” and this dear readers is one of those times.

This is post #1 for NaBloPoMo.  For those who don’t know or who are not familiar that means I have committed to try and post every day for a month. There’s a NaBloPoMo badge you can put up but I can’t get it to work yet.

The folks at NaBloPoMo help out by setting out daily writing prompts. I looked at the one for last Friday. It was “Have you ever been between a rock and a hard place?”

Oh NaBloPoMo! You are making me laugh.

Are you kidding? Have you read my blog?   Have I ever been between a rock and a hard place?

Oh yes – I have.  In fact, if I hadn’t been between a rock etc. I probably wouldn’t be blogging at all.

I lay the blame for my participation  in NaBloPoMo  squarely at the feet of Amanda over at http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/ .  She writes a very excellent blog that you should read if you have not yet had the pleasure.

Declassified Amanda is taking part in NaBloPoMo for November because November is Adoption Awareness Month or as she calls it “Adoptember”.  I thought it was an excellent idea. November started as National Adoption Month but some how got turned into Adoption Awareness Month which to some people means In Praise of Adoption Month. But that is not the case here and on many other blogs.

We want to raise awareness of the reality that so many of us who have had an adoption experience live with every day. That includes the impact of adoption on mothers and children, the stereotypes of adoption, the myths of adoption, the fight for open records, etc.

So NaBloPoMo I hope you don’t mind me writing about Friday’s prompt four days late.  I have been been “between a rock and a hard place” and I will be writing about it all adoption awareness month long.

Dear readers wish me luck. I have a writing plan. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.



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 http://www.stevenheighton.com



Facebook, Blogging and Biology: Saturday in Boston at the ASAC

Saturday, May 8, 2010

PhD Thesis Defence MIT

So now I have worked my way to Saturday, May 1st. I have survived 1.5 days at the adoption conference. I have listened to some beautiful writing on the subject of adoption, I have met some good people. I have heard some interesting ideas. Some I agree with, some I don’t. Pretty much what I wanted and expected. It’s OK.

The first session I go to at 9:00 am on Saturday morning is called Writing and Publishing About Adoption.

The first presenter, speaking on Editing Adoption and Culture, is Emily Hipchen. Adoption and Culture a publication of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture. She is its or one of its editors.

The discussion starts with the things most editors get asked: Why does it take so long to respond to a submission? What are the style standards? Why consistency of style is important?

Ms Hipchen explains the difficulty of producing a journal where the readership may have very divergent views about many things including the terminology used, e.g. birthmother. She talks about how they try to find balance in the magazine amongst the differing views on adoption, those who think it’s great: those who would like to see it abolished.

She mentioned that one thing that might help turn around times for submissions would be more volunteer readers. She suggested anyone who is interested in being a reader get in touch with her at this email address: emily at hipbo dot org I put it here in case anyone wants to volunteer.

And here is a link to the Submissions Guidelines, in case anyone has an essay they want to submit:


Gehry Building MIT

The next speaker was an adoptee, Liberty Hultberg, who spoke about Writing Adoption in a Digital Age. She has a blog called “Writing for Liberty” on Blogspot. Liberty was trying to find her father and, knowing his last name, she did a search on facebook to see if she could find him. She did not find him but she did find people with the same last name and so she joined a group of people with that name saying she was looking to connect with family and , I believe I understood this correctly, she included her father’s name. All of a sudden she starts to get many friend requests on face book. As she described it, she was going, Accept, Accept, Accept, Accept. These friends, of course, were members of her family. Suddenly, it occurred to her, now they all had access to her facebook page too. Suddenly, she thought about what her facebook page projected about her. She said she hoped she came across as “claimable” – very touching, I thought.

One little thing though: her father was not on facebook. She was starting to feel very much as if she had lost control. There is some discussion on facebook about good old [her father] having a kid; there is talk on line as to just who this long lost daughter might be and just what she might want. Although it all worked, she felt it was almost too fast, too out of her own control. She had effectively “outed” her father which didn’t seem completely fair and was never her intention.

I thought it was an interesting discussion about how one must be ever vigilant with the internet and the sensitivities of adoption. What feels very private, often is private no longer once it goes up on line. You have to stop and think each step of the way and be very conscious of what the privacy rules and policies are on the social media site you are using. We all need to be careful with our own and other people’s personal information.

The next speaker was Martha Nichols whose presentation was entitled You Don’t Know My Family: The Ethics of Adoption Memoir Writing and Press Coverage .

She is an adoptive parent and a free lance writer whose work has appeared in salon.com. She spoke on a similar theme: How we must be conscious of the fact that in writing our own stories we are also writing the stories of others. She used as an example the adoptee who was returned to Russia. In response to the outrage directed toward the adoptive mother in that case, many other adopted parents who were also experiencing difficulties began posting their own situations in words and in photographs. In the rush to generate sympathy for adoptive parents who are experiencing problems they forgot about the privacy of their own children. Children whose stories and photographs are now up on the internet for all the world to see.

All and all, a pretty good session.

Korean BirthMothers' On Line Community

The next morning session was: BirthMothers: Agency and Activism. Due to some technical difficulties (There were many technical difficulties at MIT!!) with Hosu Kim’s presentation, the first speaker was Frances Latchford from York University in Canada. Her presentation was entitled: Recovering Jocasta: Bio-essentialism and Agency in Discourse about Birthmothers.

If you need to refresh your memory re Jocasta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jocasta

Dr. Latchford and I exchanged a few words before the session began having recognized each other as Canadians. Her presentation went along these lines. If I get it wrong I hope someone will let me know or Dr. Latchford will post her paper.

She questions whether women are innately drawn to motherhood. The biology is destiny thing. In addition, to believe that a biological connection to a child or parent is important reflects an attitude of bio-narcissism. A belief that being raised in your biological family is important is bio-narcissistic nurturing.

Because of this, she questions the grief which many birth mothers express as well as their claims of coercion. She speaks of a Birth Mother Syndrome. How mothers who made a choice, believe it was a choice, and are happy with that choice, are fearful or intimidated about speaking up because the current party line (my choice of words not hers) is that birthmoms were and still are coerced or manipulated.

I found this birthmothers as sheep theory kind of interesting. One of the main reasons I was at this conference was because I have heard various birth mothers express opinions as to why feminists have for the most part thrown birth mothers under the bus. I have never quite understood this because they, or should I say, we birthmothers are women who were essentially punished for daring to be sexual beings and for breaking a patriarchical societal taboo of having children outside the bounds of, as Dr. Latchford would say, hetero normative marriage. I wanted to attend the conference, listen and see what I thought thus enabling myself to reach my own conclusions.

I am, at this early point in the proceedings, starting to feel I am hearing a theory whose philosophical underpinnings are motivated by a very healthy dose of self interest. I am also starting to understand at an even deeper level than I anticipated about the bus tire tracks that are on my back.

I am also starting to feel on behalf of the (birthmother) sisterhood, a little offended.

In my pre-presentation discussion with Dr. Latchford I expressed the view that adoptees seems to feel some longing to know where they come from. She believes this is because they are denied the information and that this will be solved by open adoption.

It does, after all, take a village to raise a child, Dr Latchford points out.

After the presentation someone who appears to be familiar with these theories asks a question about how rights are determined in this situation. Dr. Latchford answers that it is based on work. So mom does get some rights for being the person who actually bears the child. (Where does this leave men I wonder, given they do not do too much work before birth? Pretty close to the minus column.)

How would these rights be determined? They would be negotiated, says Dr. Latchford.

Hmmmm? Young frightened, recently delivered, under pressure birthmom negotiating with academic or wealthy PAP’s? What’s the number for the Power Imbalance Police? Or the Pregnant Teenager Defense Team?

According to her profile on the York University website:

Dr. Latchford’s area of specialization is feminist social and political philosophy. Her interests are interdisciplinary and encompass a strong knowledge of continental, post-structuralist, post-colonial, psychoanalytic, and queer theories of subjectivity, sexuality, race, and gender. Her publications focus on questions of queer identity, subjectivity, and rights, as well as questions concerning ethical knowledge. She is currently completing a book, Steeped In Blood, that examines how ‘family’ experiences are produced in the modern Western context. She uses feminist, continental, post-structural, and psychoanalytic theories to examine the social and political devaluation of adoptive ‘family’ experience through discourses and psychologies surrounding the family, adoption, sexuality and incest, all of which intersect. She is also working on a new anthology entitled, Adoption and Mothering, which will be published by Demeter Press.

A Tactile Love: Korean Birthmothers’ Online Community presented by Hosu Kim, College of Staten Island was next. To be perfectly honest I was still processing from the last presentation so please forgive the short description. It was about a very poignant website for Korean birth mothers. What I wrote down in my notes – many sad love stories. Ms Kim talked about what the mothers posted and how they would stay for awhile and then disappear. Finding a place to express their grief I guess and maybe hoping against hope that some connection with their child might be made.

Finally, Mary Anne Cohen a founding member of CUB spoke on A History of Birthmother Activism 1976-2010. She reviewed the history of CUB, Concerned United BirthParents explaning that it arose from ALMA the early adoptee rights movement. She talked about the early leaders in CUB and read a beautiful poem in tribute to the late Carole Anderson. This was actually the reason why I had attended this particular session.

There appeared to be a number of academics in the audience and so at the Q & A afterward, many of the questions were directed at Dr. Latchford. To her credit, the chair, Jean Teller, invited others into the questioning so that there would not be just one focus.

I started talking to a Canadian PhD candidate who was sitting behind me and we ended up having lunch together. We discussed Dr. Latchford’s theories and I said to me it just seemed like the latest rationale to separate us from our children. In my view, there is a difference betweeen equality in access (gay or straight) to children who truly need homes and developing a theory that is designed to provide “product” for PAP’s and misusing, it takes a village to raise a child, to do it. But it was a good discussion I thought. We also talked about Anita Allen’s presentation from the day before.

Next: Gays, Lesbians and Adoption. This was a plenary session. I’m afraid I didn’t write much down. The wheels in my brain were still turning from the previous session .

First Presentation: Costs of Increased Access in Adoption by Maria BrettSchneider. What I remember most about this is Ms BrettSchneider talking about her children. I hope her presentation will be posted somewhere.

She was followed by John Raible whose paper I posted from his website. I thought he was wonderful. His description of his own childhood and his discussion of the importance of community was very thought-provoking. I really urge you to read his paper.

Next: Agency at the Agency? Adoption and Structural Homophobia presented by Sarah Tobias of Rutgers. Dr. Tobias read her paper at breakneck speed. I really wish academics who are presenting already written papers would do a little editing because it is too hard to process what is coming at you.

Next, a session I was very much looking forward to: Creative Writing on Adoption chaired by Susan Ito who many of you will know from her blog, ReadingWritingLiving.

Carrie Kircher and Carol Lefevre, both adoptive mothers, read from their books, Walking Towards Everything New: A Russian Adoption Memoir and If You Were Mine

The adoptees followed: Kate Vogl reading from Lost and Found: A Memoir of Mothers; Patrick MacMahon reading from The Birthday Party about attending his birth mother’s birthday party and Jennifer Kwon Dobbs reading from On Korean Birth Search Landscapes and Politics and Poems from Paper Pavilion and Others.

Birth Mothers Read From: Gee where are the birth mothers? None present – on the panel. Al least one in the audience.

I asked Susan about this before hand. She had no hand in the panel composition.

As you can tell it was a long day. An exhausting day. I skipped the banquet. I needed a break. I went to a rib joint in Davis Square for dinner.

RedBones Southern BBQ Davis Square

That’s a picture. It was the right decision.


One more post to go or maybe two. Might do one on my general impressions, pats and pans, beefs and bouquets.

I really liked the next session I’m going to write about for many reasons. It was a nice way to end the conference. And I learned yet more new words. But in a good way.



Home in Toronto, Ontario, Canada