Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with memoirist Paige Strickland

Today’s special guest is non-fiction writer Paige Adams Strickland to tell us a bit about her personal story, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity.

While Paige does a virtual book tour, she's giving away an e-copy of Akin to the Truth at each stop to a lucky commentor. So if you'd like a chance to win a copy of this book, leave a comment below, the e-version type you'd prefer if you win, and a way for me to get in touch with you if you win!

Bio:
Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s-80s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and in particular her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba™ Fitness, gardening and baseball.

Welcome, Paige. Please tell us about your current release.
In 1961, adoption was still one of those private and taboo topics. Not much identifying information was provided for adoptive families or for birth parents by the agencies. In Ohio, records were sealed forever. Adoptees and birth mothers were supposed to be thankful for the adoptive family and never look back. Adoptive parents thought their deal was signed and sealed.

As a child and teenager, growing up adopted was like another Scarlet Letter "A" if anyone ever found out the truth. At least, that's the way I felt as I muddled through social situations and other interpersonal relations. I always loved my adoptive family, but realized I wanted not just more, but what other "regular born" people had: real roots, accurate health history and authentic family lore. I wanted freedom from shame, more dignity, authenticity and a full identity.

Then, through random chance, a local TV talk show in 1987 revealed that certain records were open if you were born before 1964 in the state of Ohio, and my life was never the same after that program.

During my quest, (pre computer), for my identity, my adoptive father struggled with his own self image and sense of belonging, so both father and daughter embarked on separate and unique parallel missions to find what was missing in their lives.

This is the story of how being adopted affected me growing up in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. It shows how one adoptee has embraced and learned to view family more globally. I tell the saga of a loving but dysfunctional family of both blood and choice, trying to cope with typical and not so typical life alterations during the decades of social revolution, free love and knowing that the most fascinating family stories are discovered by those passionate enough to search.

What inspired you to write this book?
My inspiration began when my children, who were young at the time, began to ask me all sorts of questions about my family. One time, when we were visiting my mother in Florida, I got out the old family slide projector and showed them what the 70s were really like! Haha! That sparked a lot of memories and stories. The book project started out small for them and then grew as I studied other writers’ memoirs, attended a wonderful writing group and realized that I had a for-real book that was not just for my “’tween-aged” kids but other readers, especially those who might be interested in adoption issues.

Excerpt:
Chapter 1
When I asked my parents the classic question, “Where did I come from?” Mom and Dad began by telling me that I came from God. I found that piece of information very confusing because the first picture they have of me was of a dark-haired woman holding me with her back turned. My baby face peers over her shoulder. Bare trees and a sky-blue Volkswagen with Ohio license plates can be seen in the background. For a long time I wondered if God was a brown-haired lady from Ohio who drove a classic Beetle.
I hated how the story was so nondescript and lacking in information. It wasn’t exciting and filled with humor and tenderness like scenes on television. Everybody else had pictures of sleeping babies in mothers’ arms, related stories of all the visitors who came, and told the dramatic stories of how their dad frantically loaded the car, backed out of the driveway and knocked over the trash cans as he sped off in a blizzard during rush hour to deliver Mom to the hospital 20 miles away while she sat beside him panting and yelling, “Honey, hurry faster! The baby’s coming now!” I didn’t have a father who nervously paced around in a waiting room, wearing a tread into the flooring with his big feet, sporting a five-o’clock shadow across his weary face. No doctor in scrubs came out after many hours to shake his hand and say, “Congratulations, Mr. Adams, you have a daughter.”
No one threw a party to shower my mom with receiving blankets and tiny booties while she sat in a chair with a cup of tea, a bulging belly and a romantic glow on her face, either.
Instead, I was born prematurely in both time and weight and had to spend about a month in the hospital until I grew and gained enough to be released to foster care. Then my parents came along in 1962 and adopted me from Hamilton County Welfare when I was 13 months old. Their social worker informed them very little about my start in life, only that the birth mother was a minor, and she couldn’t keep me.
They noticed that I had some sort of “lazy eye” condition. My adoptive grandmother was quite concerned that my feet were pigeon-toed, so she and my mother took me to doctors in downtown Cincinnati for examinations. Both specialists told my family that everything was just fine, and that eventually I would grow out of these perceived deformities between my eyes and my feet. I just needed extra time. That gap between my birth and the 13 months it took to have me placed in a home setting set me back, and the welfare agency told my parents that I might lag behind in my development. It was HCW’s version of “Buyer beware”. When I was eventually adopted, I didn’t walk or crawl. I could sit up but not yet walk. I used a bottle, but I could not feed myself finger food. I rolled around and cried, “Waa,” but I couldn’t do much else. I was a blob, even at slightly over one year, until people began to spend enough time with me and allow me freedom to explore scattered toys, books, messy cookies, hallways and the gooey jowls of our family dog, like a sensorimotor-staged baby needs to do.
My first actual memory is sitting in the side yard of our house throwing a bunch of leaves in the air at some lady. I can still recall the clear autumn sky and the crunchy mounds of just-raked leaves of rust red, dusty orange and brown, spiraling in the air as they landed around us. Maybe the lady was my mom who raised me. I wish I could know for certain that my first memory is of my mom.
I don’t remember John F. Kennedy being shot, but I do know that when it happened in November of 1963, Mom and Dad were in the process of packing up the house and moving to a new place over that somber weekend. We were staying in the same town, but it would be a larger home on a street with a lot of young kids and sidewalks for bike riding and walking to school. My parents were among the few in the nation, it seemed, who were not JFK fans. Mom and Dad had their own agendas and were more focused on packing boxes, loading cars, making runs to the new house and meeting deadlines. Their priorities at the time were primarily on my father’s emerging career in management with the phone company, and setting up house. They were constantly going, growing, changing and making improvements to their lives, such as adopting a child, moving to a better place and buying nicer cars. They were go-getters and never stayed satisfied for very long.
I spent a great deal of time with my Grandma Frances, my mom’s mother. She lived in walking distance, so we spent many days and nights together. Grandma Frances, who had an incredible sweet tooth, was also the provider of endless sugary and starchy treats like big cookies with icing, hard rolls, sweet rolls, chocolate pudding and her homemade sodas with vanilla ice cream, Hershey’s syrup and 7 Up. When she made them at her house, they were the best because she even had long spoons with handles that were actually straws. In all the sugar we consumed, not a soul in our family ever turned up diabetic. No one cared about carbohydrates or fat either. We simply ate and enjoyed.
When I was small, I was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz. I spent hours pretending to be Dorothy, roaming my block with a stuffed dog and a basket. I re-enacted scenes from the movie so much that my nursery school teachers were baffled by my need to live in an imaginary world and by my extreme creativity. The movie scene in which Dorothy stands at the gate of her farm, while the wind howls was mesmerizing as I watched the incredibly real-looking twister spin closer in the background. It was amazing and terrifying.
There were two major problems when I was little. One was being short. I had a very intense complex about this condition. I hated the word and anything synonymous with it. For whatever reason, to me, short or little equaled inadequate, and I dreaded being unworthy. I was a small child in a world full of important adults, who ruled everything. Adults in charge of me held the secrets to the universe. They knew all the answers to information I wanted to know, like where I really came from. I surmised that if I could be physically bigger, I would have the authority to know more about myself and anything else I wanted to learn, but little people like me were stupid and couldn’t handle it. From cookie jars to closed legal records, everything was out of my reach.
My other shortcoming to contend with at the time was my first name, Paige. I absolutely hated it. It was different. My parents picked my name because my Aunt Nora, (my dad’s sister), had heard it somewhere, and she liked it. Aunt Nora did not have children of her own. I don’t know if my parents were trying to include her or felt sorry for her or what, but because of her idea, they decided not to go with the name Cindy, and my name became Paige.
I withstood endless days of teasing on school playgrounds. I hated all the jokes and silly remarks about my first name, and I wished I’d been given a normal name like Julie or Mary. I’d become angry and yell or cry, and that intensified the taunting of the other children. Having a temper did not do me any favors.
Unknowing people misspelled my name. I was sick and tired of going through it with anyone who couldn’t treat my name normally. No one else had confusion about his or her moniker. My name was the only identity I did have, and it pissed me off when someone got it wrong. I was ready to scream and punch out the next person who said, “Oh...like page in a book.” When I was small, I couldn’t tell the difference between honest mistakes or if this was another way for people torture me for having an odd name. Once, when we had to write business letters in third grade, I received a reply to mine addressed to Mr. Paige Adams. The stupidity and thoughtlessness of people would never end, even with adults!
I hated being different. Around school, peers would crucify and senselessly hate you for being different. All I wanted was to blend in with people. Instead, I saw myself as a feisty, short person with a weird name, who had an odd start in life and a bad haircut to boot. My goal was to cruise along, unnoticed, and be treated the same as everybody else. However, that wasn’t easy for a little person with an uncommon name, and ugly, crooked pixie bangs, who often felt left out when childhood friends discussed how do babies get born.


What exciting story are you working on next?
I have a couple of projects I am working on. One is a collection of essays / reflections about my work as a teacher. I am also writing a sequel to Akin to the Truth since a lot of people have asked about that.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That probably happened in 4th grade when my L.A. teacher loved my creative writing stories and often shared them with the class. That got me hooked.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a teacher / tutor full-time. I also teach Zumba™ Fitness. During the school year, I am out the door by 6:30 AM sometimes. If I tutor or teach fitness class, I might not be home till 8:00 PM. I write a lot / market my book in the PM and on weekends. It’s good to be a night owl!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know that I have one, but often I am accompanied by one of my four cats who squeeze into the chair behind me, flop around my feet or paw at the keyboard. /,,,,K7ih…(See? Just like that!)

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a mom, a teacher and a writer. Being an artist would have been cool too.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Lisa, Thank you so much for hosting and helping to promote me.

Links:


It’s been my pleasure, Paige. Thank you for sharing your story!

Readers, don't forget if you'd like a chance to win a copy of this book, leave a comment below, the e-version type you'd prefer if you win, and a way for me to get in touch with you if you win!

1 comment:

P. Strickland said...

Lisa,

Thank you for hosting me!

Paige