Monday, July 24, 2017

DNA, Identity, Family

No surprises here
This is a personal/philosophical post, so if you're reading my blog for writing or publication information, that's not what you'll find today.

I've never made any secret of being an adoptee. It's not something I've ever been embarrassed or ashamed of, and for that, I credit my parents who were open about my birth story from my earliest memories.

A brief aside: My family is my family. My parents adopted me as a 5 day old infant. The people who created me are my genetic parents. I know other adoptees who use adoptive parents and birth parents, but that never felt right to me.

My father used to call me his "rice a roni" because I was the San Francisco treat. (That was the company's advertisement in the 1960s and 70s.) Dad was the one who flew out to California on his own to pick up his newborn daughter and bring her (me!) home.

In the 1960's, adoption was typically a hush-hush thing, burdened by a lot of shame, and the record keeping was scattershot at best. My adoption was facilitated by a San Francisco lawyer whose pro-bono work was to help young women find homes for the babies they couldn't care for. When I was in my early 20s, my father gave me the contact information for the lawyer. I was fortunate in that he did keep some records and was willing to send them to me at my request.

They are sparse: a physical description of my genetic mother and father, some basic ethnicity information, a little family history (emphasis on little). I know that at the time of my birth, my genetic parents and grandparents were alive and well. But that's about it.

I let the file sit in my office for years and never did more than glance at it from time to time. After my first child was born, I wanted to know more. And I wanted my genetic family to know that I was fine. More than fine. I had had a very good life and I was married, working as a physical therapist, and starting a family of my own.

So I steeled myself and called the phone number that was in the files from the lawyer on the long shot that 30 years later, the family would still be living there.

The people who picked up the phone that day in 1993 were my genetic mother's parents and my conversation with them explained a lot about why I was given up for adoption: they were hostile and suspicious and couldn't believe I didn't want to extort them for money.

(Second aside: seriously??? WTF??? That's the first thing you jump to when you get that call?)

After asking for contact information for my genetic mother, they threatened me and hung up on me. I believe they never even told her I had called, which makes me very sad. Over the years, I'd poke search engines and look for her name. I look through facebook every now and then, but I haven't found her.

Fast forward to 2017. I am in my 50s. My children are both adults. And I typically don't think about my being an adoptee except when I see a medical person. The question always comes up: What's your family medical history. And it hits me. I don't know.

I want to have the information. While I understand the privacy issues and the fact that my genetic parents have gone on to have their own lives and may never have revealed that they had had a child, (They are likely living separate lives. It's possible my genetic father didn't even know he'd fathered me.) I also believe that having medical information is in essence a literal birthright.

So I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test to see what my ethnic heritage was and if I had any relatives who had also registered with the site.

My results came in today.

There were no surprises. I knew my genetic mother was Jewish of Eastern European decent. I knew my genetic father was Scots/Irish.

I did have several pages of potential genetic matches with cousins and it felt very weird looking through their names, photos, and profiles. On the one hand, these are people who in a different life I might have played with as a child, attended family functions with. On the other hand, family is who raised you or who you choose to center your life around. These strangers are not family.

But they hold clues to my past.

I took a deep breath and sent an introductory email to several of them. I'm not sure what I dread most: that they answer me or that they don't.




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Monday, July 03, 2017

I made a thing


When I need to recharge, I do better when I have a project to work on, rather than deal with unstructured time. So when a friend posted an image of miniature books on Google Plus, I was determined to figure out how to make one.


I'll be on program at Readercon later this month and I knew these would make eye-catching 'swag' to give away.

First, I looked at sources to buy dollhouse supply mini books. They do exist, but they are expensive - with the shipping, probably $0.40 or $0.50 each. I figured there had to be a simple way to make them.

Then I cracked my knuckles and fired up my search engine. I found this tutorial:


I experimented with different sizes of paper, and ended up cutting down 8 1/2 x 11" printer paper to several 3x5 rectangles. I then 'shrunk' the full cover of DERELICT to 1.25" by .80", printed it out, cut it to size, and glued it on to the little blank book.

This was my first proof of concept version:


Then I printed the cover on photo paper and at a higher resolution. The books came out much, much better with a clearer cover image and a more substantial feel.





Cute, right?

In an effort to cut down on the work involved, I found 3x5 scratch pads at Staples with paper that was almost as thin as origami paper. 

Next step included adding some information inside the little book so someone could find and buy the book if they were interested. Luckily, I found some peel and stick labels.



And finally, I glued a bit of waxed twine to use as a loop for a pendant.


Now I have an opening to have a conversation and offer someone my card (or their own miniature book!)


My plan is to make a few dozen of each of the four book in the Halcyone Space series. It's a good project to have while I watch the Redsox play. :)

If you're at Readercon, come find me at the Broad Universe table and you can have a tiny book!

#SFWApro



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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Finding my way home, again



I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons why I have been feeling rootless and anxious over the past months. Ultimately the reasons matter less than my reactions to them and while I've made my writing and publishing deadlines this year, it hasn't been without difficulty.

And it has been with the knowledge that I've wasted enormous amounts of time, lost to endless checking of FB, Twitter, and Google Plus.

I've tried more organizational techniques than you can count. They all work to some extent, for a little while and then I'm back to losing time at the screen or looking productive while researching yet another organizational system.

The other day, I pushed myself to go strawberry picking. I had had it on my to do list all week, and finally by Thursday, I had run out of excuses and knew that if I didn't do it that day, it wasn't going to happen this year at all. The season is short and doesn't care about my excuses.

So I drove out to the self-pick farm and spent the morning gathering strawberries in the lovely sunshine, under an intensely blue sky.

By that night, I had dehulled, chopped, and weighed out 3 pound portions of the 12+ pounds I'd picked and readied them to make jam. (One canner's worth is already done, the other packages are in the freezer waiting for their turn.)



What I realized in sinking into the process of making jam is the thing I've missed this year has been simple immersion. Doing one thing with my full concentration and intent. It's what ceramics helps me achieve, and I've only been at the studio sporadically.

Concentration is like a muscle. If it's not exercised, it atrophies. My ability to focus fully as been eroded by the coping strategies I turned to when I was under stress. In the end, they are maladaptive strategies and I need to build in more adaptive, more nurturing ones.

But I have to do it in a way that doesn't feel punitive.

Making endless to do lists haven't helped me in the past. It only makes me feel worse when I don't get to what I know will help.

So I'm just going to use this to remind myself how much better I feel when I take regular walks with the dogs, make jam, spend 10 minutes meditating, read a poem, do a bit of yoga, spend time at the studio, free write.

These are things that help me feel more like me. The doing of them is its own reward.

Today I took a long walk with the dogs in the woods. Aside from the ticks, it was a wonderful day. I found myself breathing in a deep and easy rhythm while sun and shadow made patterns on the trees. As I relaxed more and more, I started thinking about an old writing project that has been stalled for more than a year and came up with a different way of looking at the problem.



This is progress. This is self-care. This is coming home.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Happy Book Birthday


I have done everything I can to give PARALLAX its best chance for success. The rest is not up to me.



Last night on twitter, I posted a bit about this - how by the time a book is out, it no longer belongs to the author. And let me tell you, that lack of control is terrifying.

Think about it: For the time it takes to draft a novel, the author is the Supreme Being On High. We create worlds out of our imaginations. We literally put words into our characters' mouths and thoughts into their heads.

So forgive me if I find this phase of the process enormously nerve-wracking. 

I wrestle with the hope that PARALLAX will find its readership and be a big success along with the dread that it might not earn out its production expenses. Realistically, I understand that later books in a series never sell as many as the initial books. I just hope I'm in that sweet spot where it will sell enough to keep the series going and perhaps reignite interest in the first books.

There are some wonderful opportunities on the horizon including a partnership with the folks who brought you HerStoryArc in their new F-BOM (Feminist Book of the Month) project.  I'm very excited at the prospect of bringing the Halcyone Space books to a new readership.

But, still I worry. It's the natural habitat of the writer. I'll be anxious about PARALLAX for some time to come, through it's first few weeks of sales, its first reviews. I'll worry that someone doesn't like it. Then I'll worry that no one's talking about it.

While I hate to say this part of it hasn't gotten any easier for me, despite the fact that PARALLAX is my 7th published novel, at least I'm in familiar territory. And that means I can acknowledge the intense emotions and keep moving forward.

I'm already immersed in a new world with new characters on a new project. That's the only antidote I've found to writer's anxiety.

And while I have your attention, let me remind you that PARALLAX is book 4 of Halcyone Space and all 4 books are available widely, wherever ebooks are sold. They are also available in trade paperback editions. You can find links to all purchase venues at www.ljcohen.net.

The novels of Halcyone Space

DERELICT (Halcyone Space, book 1): A group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship's AI wakes believing it's still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.

ITHAKA RISING (Halcyone Space, book 2): A young computer genius struggling to function with a grievous head injury is willing to risk his life to get a black market neural implant, but what he finds is a planet that shouldn't exist and a rebellion that threatens the stability of the Commonwealth.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (Halcyone Space, book 3): When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she's drawn into a conflict between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires.

PARALLAX (Halcyone Space, book 4): Halcyone's crew is drawn into a conspiracy threatening to reignite a galactic war when they discover the hidden power brokers who have been quietly manipulating the Commonwealth for decades.

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